Seems a lot of our “spiritual moments” here at home lately involve problem solving of some sort. And it can be difficult because, while I want my children to be kind and sensitive to others, I also don’t want to teach my children that every offense needs to be confronted, or corrected, or responded to. I see that approach lived out in our American culture, where we seem to have lost the art of assuming the best of people, rather than the worst.
We see glimpses of this attitude throughout the Bible. Peter tells us that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Solomon connects patience with this ability to overlook a transgression (Proverbs 19:11). First Corinthians 13 gives multiple facets of Christian love, which includes this idea of not keeping track of offenses. We’re told love “thinks no evil” in verse five (literally, “not keeping account of wrongdoing“) These ideas may cause us to immediately think of the big offenses– It’s obviously not right to cover up serious sin, right? And how can love think no evil when some things are, undeniably evil? Is love truly blind? Instead of wrestling with the big issues, I’ve found it helpful to consider the small offenses. I’ve found enough to challenge me there.
Helping my children in this area is actually helping me. Perhaps “assuming the best” is another way of obeying “love covers a multitude of sins” and “love thinks no evil.” Do you find yourself cynical or impatient when considering the goodness of others? I think that’s the opposite of what we’re talking about.
What I’m learning is that our children need guidance when it comes to assuming the best. Maybe your children are different, but my children don’t seem to figure this one out themselves.
When our child says, “So-and-so hates me,” further questions reveal an incident that can be interpreted in more than one way. Perhaps our child went over to play with a neighbor, and when new girls came over to play, the neighbor friend neglected our child. Interpretation: she doesn’t like me as much as those other girls. I felt left out. As mom, we might jump to our child’s defense, but we also might be able to see the snub in a different light. Maybe it wasn’t a snub at all, or maybe there was a reasonable explanation for it.
We make assumptions in our adult communities regularly, often with events that can likewise be interpreted in more than one way. Someone abruptly leaves a conversation and I wonder if I said something wrong. I notice she appears to avoid me when I walk past her another day. Very quickly, my interpretation of the events makes a difference in my ability to overlook it. I respond differently to her, and she in turn responds differently to me. I wrestled with this as a teacher, when I assumed a student didn’t like me, and I actually found myself smiling at them less than other students, which in turn, confirmed their own assumptions that I didn’t like them!
When we help our children interpret an event in the best possible light, we are teaching them how to navigate the inevitable times in life when they might be legitimately snubbed, and they, grace-filled, choose to interpret the action in the nicest possible light.
Last week, we had two events that caused me to think about these ideas.
One daughter sent an email to her friend. In her email she was asking for a computer file that the friend had. Her friend didn’t respond. After a few days of constant checking, mournful sighs, and so on, we talked about how love overlooks an offense.
I asked if she could think of legitimate reasons for not responding. Maybe her friend forgot to write, or her family went on a trip. She might have had something she wanted to talk about but couldn’t yet. Maybe she couldn’t find the file and didn’t know how to say that she lost it. There are lots of positive interpretations, but it’s interesting that the negative interpretation was the first reaction.
I encouraged my daughter to go ahead and write a friendly letter as usual. She had a choice– she could continue to ask about the file, or she could just write a normal letter. In either case, asking about it (assuming the friend might have forgot) or just moving on and letting it go is much better than assuming there is a problem. When we realize that a choice to make a big deal about a small offense can ultimately harm the friendship, it is much easier to let the offense go.
The second occasion happened as we discussed an individual we know who teases more than our children are comfortable with. Now, I’m not a fan of a lot of teasing in general, mostly because it often goes over my head, but I don’t want my children wilting whenever they are teased. When my daughter started reporting that she doesn’t know what to say to the teaser, we started an ongoing conversation about good-natured ways to respond.
First, we all acknowledged that most teasing is not mean spirited even though it can be hurtful. In fact, it’s actually helpful to assume obnoxious behavior is not mean spirited until proven otherwise. Ignoring teasing was one way to respond, but sometimes all that does is cause the teaser to increase his teasing. Still, it’s worth a shot.
Next, we talked about ways to tease back that were kind and appropriate (no small challenge for this mama). They’ve reported some success, although it will be on ongoing discussion. I’m interested that this whole discussion started with correcting an assumption that the teaser was trying to be unkind. (It’s not that teasing can’t be unkind; it’s just that I’d rather come to that conclusion with actions that can’t be misinterpreted.)
Love suffers long and is kind;
love does not envy;
love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
does not behave rudely, does not seek its own,
is not provoked, thinks no evil;
does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
Have you had any occasions to teach these ideas to your children?
By the way, a lot of blogging happens because of an assumption of a kind audience. For those who look past my awkward writing and join in the conversation, I thank you.
“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” –George Eliot