In our interactions and our relationships, there are assumptions we use as a filter through which we judge and respond to others actions and reactions. We often called these assumptions “what’s normal.” Problem is, normal has a fluid meaning defined by each individual’s own experiences.
Your normal might not be someone else’s normal. So what happens when you get in a situation or discussion and perhaps how they are responding seems a little abnormal to you. What do you do? Do you impose your normal on them? Or do you take the time to understand what their normal looks like so that you can respond in an understanding way?
See we like our assumption. They make our lives easier, but do they actually help the other person?
Because basically an assumption is us inserting what we think is the truth into a situation and then responding according to our version of the events. But this often means we are not addressing their situation at all, we are simply preaching a message that may or may not speak to them at all. In fact, it might do exactly the opposite. It might do harm rather than good, because we haven’t taken the time to understand the actual situation or them.
Thing is, not making an assumption requires us to invest the time and do the work of asking questions before responding and therefore risking getting answers that might challenge us, frighten us, or make us uncomfortable.
What is more important?
Your time, connivence, and comfort, or the other person’s soul?
Let’s just take a moment and see how this might play out.
A child says in a panic, “Please don’t turn out the lights. I don’t want to sleep in the dark.”
Do you say, “Well, normally people sleep in the dark so that’s what you are going to do.”? Or do you ask “What has happened that you do not want to sleep in the dark?”
See because for you normal might be that you sleep in the dark all the time and it’s safe and saves on the electric bill.
That child’s normal might be, when the lights were turned off was when their mom’s druggy boyfriend would come in and do what he wanted.
A Christian who’s been at a church for a year says, “I’m just not sure I am ready to get involved in a ministry.”
Do you say to them, “Surely you could manage to be involved. It’s not that big of a commitment.” Or do you ask, “What makes you feel like you aren’t ready to get involved?”
See because for you normal might be that a ministry is just a great way to help out other people and make friends in the church.
To the other person normal might be, that ministry leads to being used for their resources, controlled by leadership, and ultimately kicked to the curb when they voice concerns over how others are being treated.
When a Christian says, “I’m struggling in my marriage, I sometimes think about leaving my spouse.”
Do you say to them, “Well, you shouldn’t think that way. You just need to love them and pray for them.” Or do you ask, “What’s happening that you are thinking about leaving your spouse?”
See because for you normal might be that your spouse sometimes get’s angry enough to yell at you and is a messy and doesn’t always do a great job with finances.
To the other person normal might be that their spouse sometimes get’s angry enough to go from leaving bruises to actually breaking bones, always controls all the finances, and keeps the keys to both cars so that it’s impossible to leave without their permission.
Asking questions can mean the difference between radically misjudging a person and their situation or else seeing them through the perspective of their normal and being able to respond with compassion and understanding.
When we fail to spend the time to ask questions and understand someone else’s normal, we fail in being Christians. We fail in caring about them and caring for them as the body of Christ.
Job in the Bible is a man who is deeply misunderstood by his friends due to their assumptions about what is normal. Here is a piece of one of their conversations where Job finally get’s fed up with their responses where they are telling him what is happening to him is all his fault.
Job 12:1 “Then Job answered and said: ‘…But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Indeed, who does not know such things as these?’”
Job’s interactions with his friends, among other things, is a reminder to us that we should not just make assumptions about what is happening. For in the end even God reprimands Job’s friends for their words. Job 42:7 “And so it was, after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.”
Challenge: Next time you’re tempted to respond out of your own preconceived ideas of what someone else means or is going through, pause and remind yourself that your normal might not be their normal. Ask them what is really happening and take the time to understand their normal before responding.