My wife and I did some cleaning around the house while the kids were in summer school today, and as the school year just concluded, much of our time ended up devoted to figuring out what to do with all the school items that were just sent home en masse.
At one point, I found my wife nosing through one of my daughter’s 1st grade writing journals, and let me just say that her creative entries tend to read like lyrics Bob Dylan never got around to using. Here are a few gems:
“What does hello mean?”
“Shapening check. Detective gone, on the roll!” (???)
“The little old woman is hipantist (hypnotized) by the great magic mirror.”
As we poked through, laughing a bit at some of the funny things she thinks to say, I saw the one in the image above. And though I suppose she meant that she “drew” the person in the picture without looking, the way she phrased her statement stuck with me.
Further evidence that kids do say the “darndest” things.
You see, here’s what I realized the more I thought about what my daughter wrote:
I “write” people all the time, and I usually do it without “lookin’.”
What I mean by that is this: inside the worst parts of my own headspace, I am profoundly gifted at creating narratives about people, the things they do, and the motivations that drive them. This would be fine if I also had a natural inclination toward charitable narratives. But I don’t always have that.
Perhaps an example from my marriage would illustrate (I share this with my wife’s full blessing). My wife and I don’t pack a dishwasher the same way. We’ve learned this through some pretty overblown turmoil. Early in marriage, it wasn’t uncommon that I’d load the dishes, and then find her (BRACE YOURSELF FOR THIS)…coming behind and shuffling things around.
Unthinkable, I know. 😉
And in those moments, the strangest thing used to happen in my head. My mind would begin creating a narrative about my wife and her actions, one in which she clearly thought me incompetent at basic household tasks, one in which her need for control outweighed any gratitude due me for trying to keep the kitchen clean. I’d go on, but it just spirals out to even more unreasonable, unfounded assumptions that just emphasize the point:
In my own head, I don’t always write people in the positive. In fact, quite the opposite. Too often, my natural tendency when someone does something that I find annoying, hurtful, or just confusing is to impute upon them motives that put me in the position of hero or victim while making them the problem.
And this is most often done quickly, casually without actually “looking” at and thinking about the things that would contradict my conveniently self-affirming mental plot line.
The fact of the matter is that my wife loves me; she sees space differently (pronounced “better”) than I do, and her simply moving cups around so that we run the machine less often actually has nothing to do with her assumptions about my ability to “adult.” A pretty cursory look at the preponderance of evidence indicating she loves me beyond what I deserve would quickly close the case. She’s not out to do harm or make a statement; she’s just moving dishes. But to see this clearly would require escaping my own inner monologue and “writing” her by lookin’, not without it.
And this applies to the kid who pops off in the hall.
And to the person who took my parking space.
And to the couple that left the church I pastor for another.
And to the (insert similar scenario here).
I think one of the most challenging parts of 1 Corinthians 13, in which Paul sets the virtue of love above all other spiritual gifts, comes in verse 7:
“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
I didn’t always know what do do with this bit of Paul’s admonition; it used to just seem a nice part of the scriptures that got quoted at weddings.
All. The. Weddings.
But the older I get, the more I understand.
I understand that going through life assuming the worst of everyone is no way to live, and surely no way to love. The great majority of people, even those who drive us nuts, hurt us, confuse us, or do us harm aren’t actually out to burn the world. Most of them (myself most certainly included) are just trying to do the best they know how with the hand they’ve been dealt. That’s not to say their views of situations are always accurate or that the emotions which drive their decisions are ideal, but most people are just trying to do what they think is best in the moment, for better or worse.
So instead of creating narratives in our own heads that immediately cast others as the enemy, the problem to be solved, the threat, perhaps we might do better to spend a bit more time “looking” at the reality of that person’s situation before constructing the narrative. If we’re willing to do that, I suspect we might actually “write” people in a different light, perhaps with a bit more bearing than bemoaning, more belief than suspicion, more hope than cynicism, more endurance than offense.