As Christians, we spend a lot of time talking about our thoughts and actions, about how harmful gossip is, and about our roles as Christian men and women. Something I hear very little talk about, though, is the subject of assumptions. More specifically, assumptions about people we encounter. I had a rather funny conversation today with a colleague that got me to thinking about how much we wrongly assume about each other. This colleague came in the office, and being a typical Southern man who likes to eat, commented on my lunch and asked who made it. When I told him that I did, he said, “You cook!?” We aren’t currently speaking. Just kidding. We are. Sort of… Truthfully, I wouldn’t expect him to know that I cook. He only sees me at work, dressed up, doing work stuff, and unless you tell men things directly, they will never know. I’ve never told him how much I love to cook, so of course, he had no idea. And no, I’m not mad him. Hehe. 🙂
Because I’m a thinker, though, I did start to think a little deeper about assumptions. People seem so quick to view and categorize others, that they never end up getting to actually know the person they have just assumed they know all about. I’ve been guilty of this more times that I would care to admit, but I think we all do it. As young children, one of the first things we are taught is to categorize, group, and sort, so it is probably only natural that we take it a little too far into categorizing, grouping, and sorting people, too. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually work out too well with people.
In college, my roommate and I both drove a Lexus. Neither of us acquired them new, and for both of us, it was just the car that God happened to provide for us at the time. Many of our neighbors assumed we were just spoiled little rich girls, and made some fairly nasty comments without even getting to know us, just because of the cars we drove. We couldn’t even get to know some of our neighbors because they were so hung up on assuming who we were because of what we drove. If they knew the truth, they would know that the roommate’s Lexus had 290,000 miles on it, and I am still driving mine, ten years later. We were tired music majors who penny pinched, cooked, and watched the Food Channel and PBS when we weren’t practicing and doing homework.
Does any of that really matter? Nope. People are people and people are broken. What does bother me, though, is how much we miss out on because of assumptions like that. There could have been some really nice relationships in the neighborhood if it weren’t for that, but they never happened. We had a wonderful relationship with the older couple across the street–the couple who couldn’t have cared less what we looked like, or what cars we drove, or whether we grew up in Mockingbird Heights or the gutter. We always knew that Mr. Ed (yep–Mr. Ed. We called his wife Mrs. Ed, but I couldn’t tell you their last name for the life of me…) was there for us, and I’d like to think that maybe we made their lives a little less lonely.
It seems like the harsher and more misguided the assumptions get, the more hurtful it gets for both the one being assumed about and the one doing the assuming. There was a time when I almost allowed others’ actions based on untrue assumptions tear apart our marriage. I know that I’ve made some gravely wrong assumptions about people, and it took years for me to mend the damage I did. In fact, there are things that I am still trying to mend over making and acting on hurtful assumptions years ago. Had I listened to what God had to say about a situation, or asked for wisdom to see the person’s heart, I doubt I would have ever headed down the rabbit trail of assuming things.
I have several friends who are the type who are very reserved until they feel comfortable around someone. Many times, these people are kind of hard to get to know at first, and hard to read at first. Once you get to know them, though, the reservations are gone, and this once very quiet and formal person is now outgoing, talkative, and relaxed, and oftentimes, incredibly funny. I happen to know that my friends who are like this struggle with people making assumptions about them that aren’t true. Some I just find funny, like those people who say, “Oh, she is just so sweet and quiet.” I’d love to say back, “Well clearly you’ve never really talked to her, or you would know that she is sweet but definitely not quiet!!” I’ve also heard people say much more hurtful things like, “Oh, well she is just a cold person” or “She hardly said a word. She is so rude.” The truth is, if people got off of the first-impression assumption train and make some conversation, they would see that these people just have a hard time knowing what to say at first, or they have a hard time letting their guard down, or they just get nervous around new people. I wonder how often valuable friendships are missed out on because people aren’t given enough of a chance?
In an effort to not be an “assumer,” I think I notice more than I used to. I see things all the time that people do to rob each other of a blessing:
- People assume that people who financially struggle are always irresponsible.
- People assume that people who are financially well-off are always going to be rude and selfish.
- People assume that people who are in the ministry are perfect and never need sleep.
- People assume that people who have physical limitations also have mental limitations.
- People assume that people who are developmentally disabled are incapable of doing anything.
- People assume that if a young woman isn’t married by a certain age, that there is something wrong with her, or that she doesn’t want to be married.
- People assume that those with big families are somehow foolish and misguided as to how that happens, because “who would want that many kids!?”
- People assume that those without children choose that on purpose.
If we make assumptions that stifle our ability to have relationships with others, do we make assumptions that stifle our ability to have a healthy relationship with God? Do we make assumptions about scripture, or how strong our faith is, or how obedient we are? Do we make assumptions about what is permissible and what isn’t, and what is right for our family without praying for and seeking God’s guidance through His word?
Assumptions are immediate, but relationships are more like those elephant ears above. They start out as bulbs, but with a little effort, time, and nourishment, they transform into something no one would have ever expected on a first impression.