Recently, I was presented with an opportunity to share what I call Grace Thinking: learning to think well of others with my two almost teenage daughters. What is Grace Thinking? It is when we think well of others when something happens that we don’t understand, and we give the person the benefit of our doubts and concerns. The girls and I talked about how we can re-frame our negative thoughts about others, and extend grace to them. This conversation seemed like a great topic for this month’s column.
The concept of Grace Thinking is a daily life-giving choice that actively blesses relationships by assuming the best about people especially when there is something we don’t understand. It allows us to be peacemakers in relationships and to experience a more peaceful thought life.
Years ago, when I was in high school, I had a teacher that was consistently angry and short-tempered with our class. Most of the time, he responded impatiently to questions and was quickly irritated with small talk and foolishness. This continued for months into the school year. I dreaded his class because my whole learning style was more interactive and I needed to ask questions to understand things. He was not patient with my questions and treated me like I must not be paying attention if I didn’t understand his lesson the first time.
One day, late in the school year, something happened that particularly irritated him. He stopped what he was doing. We knew he was going to erupt, as his face reddened and his breathing changed. “You guys are a bunch of idiots! You have no idea what real life is about!” He continued to scream at us, and then suddenly blurted out that his whole family had been killed in a boating accident, several years earlier. He had lost his wife and children in one single day. Of course, we all sat shocked and had no idea how to respond. He abruptly sat down and worked at his desk for the rest of the class period. That was it. It was over, so we all did the same. Quietly stealing glances at each other, hardly looking up at him, and appearing to study.
As I sat there and stared at my desk, something shifted in me. I saw him differently and with compassion. I realized I had judged him with no real concept of his life, his history, his struggles, or his motivations. I had assumed negative thoughts about him, with no idea of where he was coming from.
In that moment, I saw there are deep waters in the hearts of people and that I could be a peacemaker by understanding their pain. I could give them grace and the benefit of compassion even when they responded to me with anger and hostility. The eyes of my heart were opened to the extreme pain many people carry. Unable to deal with their pain, they push other people away and keep themselves isolated.
From that time on, I chose to view people differently. I began to assign good intentions to others when their behavior was questionable. I chose to see others as struggling fellow pilgrims, with hidden problems and invisible hurts. I chose to see the possible good in a situation. Not in an “ostrich head in the sand” mentality, but in an “innocent until proven guilty” approach, or a “bless those who curse you” kind of way. Giving people the benefit of our doubts extends grace and peacemaking in relationships, which is what we all want.
In my own situation, when my mother died last year, I literally felt like wearing a sign around that said, “Please be nice to me. I know I’m acting weird, but my mother just died.” I wanted people to give me grace when I was forgetful, and possibly wore an unfriendly facial expression.
We used to tell our older children, “People act the way they do because of them not because of you.” We taught them to see other people’s unkind actions as a result of things already going on with them.
In these situations, we often allow our thoughts to run rampant and steal our joy and peace. We rehearse the wrongs done to us, and assign motives. In smaller situations in the home, we can assume the worst about family and friends and literally circle those thoughts for days. This allows bitterness and unforgiveness to develop and grow.
As we talked, my girls agreed they wanted to view people in the same way. We want others to assume the best about us. We try to be honest, hard workers, unselfish in relationships, and be sensitive to others feelings, etc. We want grace on our worst days and understanding when we are struggling. We want people to see that “causing intentional hurt” is almost never something we would do. I say “almost” because siblings have the unique ability to intentionally hurt each other. However, they also have the unique ability to sow blessing by thinking well of each other, and choosing to believe the best.
I shared a verse with my girls that has helped me refocus my thinking, and make a more life-giving choice when I am hurt or don’t understand something that happened.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things (Philippians 4:8, ESV).
This verse challenges me to focus on the good in people in any given situation. God knows we need this reminder. He knows how easily offended we are by others. We have to learn to refocus, re-frame, and extend grace. Many times I have to “change my mind” and choose to think about something good and praise worthy. When I believe the best in others it brings more life to my relationships and extends grace and forgiveness.
I believe Grace Thinking is a choice we can all make. The effects can be powerful to bring more peace to our relationships and more peace to our thought lives.
Choosing Grace with You,