This Might Be The Greatest Gift You Can Give This Christmas Season (and it's free!)
Ok, I’m going to be honest here. To all the female readers, I hope you can relate with what I am about to say. If not, then I am going to feel slightly embarrassed. To the male readers, this post may confirm any suspicions that women are wonderfully complicated creatures who you have no hope of understanding.
Sometimes, when I am feeling a bit more insecure than usual, my thoughts will get…well… a tad out of control. One irrational thought morphs into another irrational thought and before I know it, I have settled on a conclusion that has absolutely no backing behind it. Let me paint a scenario for you…
Let’s say I text a friend to see if she wants to hang out and she never responds. Then, maybe I text again a few days later just to check in and she still doesn’t respond. Here is an example of where my mind goes:
“Hmmm…she still didn’t respond. That’s weird.”
“Did she see my texts?”
“Of course she saw my texts. This is 2017. Maybe she is upset about something?”
“Did I do something to offend her?”
“Was our last interaction weird?”
“Oh I bet that one comment I made upset her.”
“Should I talk to her about it?”
Ladies, please tell me I’m not crazy.
There are plenty of good explanations for not texting someone back…What if my friend broke her phone? Had a looming work deadline? Struggled through a really hard week with the kids? Or maybe she honest to goodness just forgot to respond. Truth be told, I can relate with each and every one of these explanations! In fact, I am not good at texting back either!
Most of the time, I can recognize when the irrational thought-morphing begins, but every now and then, I let my assumptions get the best of me.
Have you ever assumed someone didn’t like you based on one conversation, an odd look, or a vague comment? Have you ever felt super offended by someone but later found out that your assumptions didn’t match their intentions? Why is it so easy to assume the worst in others? Especially with those we know, love, and trust?
Perhaps, it is because there is a small part of us that is afraid to be disappointed, rejected, or betrayed. Defenses are a natural part of the human condition, and our assumptions can often be used to protect ourselves.
However, I wonder if maybe…just maybe… the best gift we can give each other this holiday season is the benefit of the doubt.
For some of us, giving the benefit of the doubt is not easy. For others, it comes naturally.
My husband is somehow really good at this. Giving others the benefit of the doubt is his first instinct, and sometimes, it aggravates me to no end. If we are driving and someone speeds past us and cuts us off, he’ll say something like, “Maybe his wife is in the front seat and she is in labor.” (I’m serious – he has actually said this before.) He can easily assume the best in others.
Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is actually an act of compassion. Compassion compels us to intentionally step into the feelings of another, instead of trying to avoid them. You cannot force yourself to feel compassion or love for another, but it is possible to put your heart in the right posture to sympathize with those around you.
Whether you are like my husband or a tad more easily offended, the holidays have a way of bringing up some tension. This topic has been the center of conversation in many of my friendships over the last few weeks, so I think it is safe to say that the most of us will challenged to some degree this holiday season. But, what if we assumed the best instead of the worst of those around us?
Let’s say a family member or friend is unkind, critical, or offensive toward you. I would encourage you to put yourself in their position before choosing whether or not to confront them. Ask yourself:
“How would it feel to be this person?”
“What hardships are they facing?”
"Are they sleep-deprived?" (Lack of sleep turns into me a crazy lady)
“How might their own unmet needs impact the way they interact with me?”
For example, if Mom snaps at you while rushing to put Christmas dinner on the table, give her a break. She is probably feeling pressure to make a great meal and is exhausted from cooking since 6am. If Uncle Bob says something offensive about your parenting, try to let it roll off your back by remembering that many years have passed since he had little kids. If Grandma asks you for the four millionth time why you are single, remind yourself that she probably isn’t asking this question because she wants to hurt your feelings; most likely she just wants to see you happy. If your friend is standoffish at a holiday party, consider that maybe she had a hard day, or that the holidays bring up some painful memories for her.
I am not encouraging you to ignore your feelings here. If a tough conversation needs to happen in order to maintain respect in a relationship, mend an argument or prevent bitterness from taking over, then by all means, go for it. I just wonder if first choosing to step into another’s shoes can help us to respond with grace instead of reacting with anger.
I can think of countless times when I felt so overwhelmed and exhausted that I have dropped the ball, said something less than encouraging, lost my temper, forgotten special occasions, or just totally over-reacted. And when family or friends have offered me grace in those messy moments, it has been a precious gift to me.
So how can we prepare our hearts to be tender towards others in order to graciously give them the benefit of the doubt? I believe the secret is this: when we remember God’s compassion for us, it helps us have compassion for others. I devote an entire week on the Discipline of “Developing a Heart of Compassion” in Habits of the Heart because I think our world is so in need of it.
Let’s start right now. If you have a tense event coming up (a family dinner, a work party, or maybe a tough conversation with a friend) I encourage you to read the verse and questions below. This exercise needs to be done slowly and thoughtfully. Grab a journal and write these questions and verses down to dig into when you have some time. The more you put into this exercise, the more you will get out of it.
“You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”
Reflect on the ways God has shown compassion to you. How has he…
§ Cared for you during a desperate time (see Genesis 16:13)?
§ Loved you even in your worst times of sin (see Romans 5:8)?
§ Comforted you in the midst of your pain (see Psalm 34:18)?
§ Healed your broken heart (see Psalm 147:3)?
§ Given you a chance to start over (see Lamentations 3:22-23)?
How might this encourage you to show the same kind of compassion to others?
I know this is easier said than done. It takes hard work and discipline to give another the benefit of the doubt. There will be times when you will fail and that is okay. Our merciful God showers his compassion on us every day. Not because we deserve it, but because he loves us.
I love what Psalm 103:14 has to say about how God cares for us, “For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” God knows you are only human. You cannot offer compassion to another out of sheer determination. You need help from him. So, ask God to shape your heart into one that is gracious, loving, forgiving, kind, empathetic, and full of compassion.
I pray that this holiday season, you recognize and respond to the opportunities that need your grace, compassion, and love for others because of the grace, compassion, and love you have received from God.