Yesterday morning my fourth-grade son bounds down the stairs and makes his typical morning entrance into the room. The boy lives life with zest and you will ALWAYS hear him before you see him. His loud voice rounded the corner as he sang one of his I-just-made-this-up-and-must-share-it-with-you songs. We congratulated him on his bewildering ballad as he soaked in the adulation. It was then that I looked on his neon-blue sweatshirt and saw that it was streaked with thick, white toothpaste from his chest down to his navel. This is not the first time that I have been concerned that Landon thinks toothpaste is a daily fashion accessory. When I questioned him about it he told me, “Well, at least you know that I brushed my teeth today.” Amy and I looked at one another and broke out laughing. It’s hard to correct a nine-year-old comedian covered in Colgate.
Sometimes doing the right thing gets messy. Whether it is brushing your teeth or engaging in something with a little more substance, fulfilling your duties sometimes leaves a stain. Doing the right thing often brings with it some results that stand out in your life like white paste on neon-blue. And people are looking at you. Analyzing you. Drawing conclusions about you. You? You’re just trying to keep your teeth clean for another day.
Who is misunderstanding you lately? For me, this is one of the hardest occasions to deal with in life. Handling aggressive opposition is easier for me than the messiness of being misunderstood. Unfortunately, I have also been the one who has misunderstood others before. Hasty conclusions, irretrievable comments, uninformed summaries and then premature courses of actions have all been on my relationship résumé as I stumbled into the pit of thinking I understood what was going on in a person. Depending on how often and to what degree your life intersects with others, you may also know the sinking feeling of realizing that you have been misunderstood or that alternate reality of you misunderstanding someone else. You know what it is like to be doing the right thing in the very best way possible, only to come up against the sandpaper of someone else’s ideas, opinions or actions. Friction arises and pathways part. I have watched this play out in marriages, friendships, ministry and business ventures. Unresolved misunderstandings are a breeding ground for fractured fellowship. People walk away with not even the slightest attempt to gain big-picture clarity. Sometimes it’s easier to leave with what we think we understand than it is to do the heard work of loving someone enough to listen to them. We are incomplete people living alongside other incomplete people as we all are susceptible to assume that we are actually seeing the complete picture.
Let’s be honest. We don’t even completely understand our own selves. How can we think we have an accurate summary of others?
Everyone has a story and they are currently living it out. There are chapters you have not read and there are also chapters of their lives that God has not yet written. I know this much: I will not encounter a non-broken human being today. We have been fashioned in a fallen world by sharp-edged circumstances and all of us have been deeply impacted by dozens of powerful, influential forces. The Gospel of Jesus Christ carries within it a promise of God’s restoring power. Yes, the Savior who rescues us is also the Carpenter who repairs us. Jesus Christ is in the overhauling business and all of us are in His shop at various stages of being completed. Please do not ask me why He does not simply snap His fingers of omnipotence and zap us into a perfected state of being. He takes time with us. He does not seem to be desperate to put the finishing polish upon our lives. We are left with dents and dings, a little rust, some un-sanded rough patches and the occasional missing plug or two. It is humbling to admit that we clearly see the unfinished state of others but are a little hesitant to recognize that we are seeing them through our own eyes which are covered over with a layer of depravity-dust which clouds our own vision of them. We are incomplete people who evaluate other incomplete people and none of us are qualified to completely sum one another up.
Jesus told us to love each other instead. He told us to serve one another. He told us to bear with one another. Jesus never delegated the wholesale heart-evaluation process to any of us. He has been taking care of that by Himself for a really long time. We have far too many facets to our lives for any of us to take on the job of Master-Assessment Agent. The 2X4 in our own eye disqualifies us from retrieving the toothpick in our brother’s eye. They are just trying to brush their teeth and we are scrutinizing the Colgate on their collar.
I hope I will grow in this area and not hastily summarize people any more. I am asking God to help me to love others with a greater ease than that with which I categorize them. In the process I am learning that it is fun to turn loose of the tendency to think I fully understand others. I’m offloading responsibility that God never assigned to me. You and I have never seen a motivation in the heart of another. But we are sometimes confident that we know what is driving that person on the opposite side of the aisle from us. We secretly think we know what makes them tick. May our discerning King lead us into better things – those things to which we are called and equipped. He has not commissioned me to figure you out and to give a book report on who you are, why you are or what you are. He has called me to love you.
I think that is what I will do.
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