I have noticed a beautiful quality in my daughter over the past few months. When I share about a frustration with someone she is quick to extend grace towards that person. She will say, “Well we are not quite sure what Stan is thinking.” (FYI: Stan is fictitious so if you are named Stan, don’t get offended). Or, she will comment that Stan could be having a good day. At times, she will even say that you are being a bit unfair towards Stan. I have been convicted by her “disposition of grace towards others.” She is correct even though it is hard to hear a challenge from one of your children. Yet, we try to foster that type of relationship in our home.
Are there times I extend grace towards others? Yes. However, there are many times that I make presumptions about a person’s character or motive. Part of the reason is my “having seen this” attitude before. I have a catalogue of personalities and issues that I have encountered over the years in pastoral ministry. Therefore, I can be very quick to simply size up a situation based on one of those experiences. I drop a person in a category and respond emotionally. Oh, this is so unfair to that person. Each person is unique and their situation specific to him/her. I should be quick to extend grace – to give the benefit of the doubt. Granted, there are times my assumption is correct; however, most of the time it is merely guessing.
I think part of the issue is that we tend to become less gray as we grow older and more black/white. We tend to “know” what the world is like and therefore what people are like. We have lived long enough to feel our experiences inform us accurately. We think in less gray terms and in more absolute terms. There is some beauty in having these convictions. However, it also spills over to judgments. The challenge is maintaining convictions while loving people. As I consider Christ, I see that he quickly extended love and grace to people while maintaining a standard of truth. He was not prone to judgments but humbly embraced each person, seeing their situation accurately without presumption. We are certainly not Christ yet we can strive to be more like him.
I also believe that margin is becoming increasingly squeezed out of our lives. We have no time. We run around from situation to situation. We reflect less and react more. As a result, we simply don’t have or wish to make time to listen to people. I mean truly hear them. We don’t sit back and try to understand what situation or emotion is arising in their life. Categorizing takes no time; listening takes a lot of time. So, we jump to conclusions because it is simply easier. It reminds me that loving people requires time – time to listen and time to extend grace. Giving the benefit of the doubt can’t occur in a sound bite. Again, Jesus was masterful. He not only listened to the person’s words, he listened to their life – their emotions, pain, reactions, and sin. He then extended grace and truth to their situation. Oh, to be more like Jesus. The reality is that it is possible if only we would allow it.