We’re going to go to an uncomfortable place, but vitally important, for the health of our internal world, our relationships with others, and most importantly, our relationship with God – all of which are impacted by the other.  So, buckle up and let’s do this for the sake of unity and healthy, thriving relationships.

I want you to imagine a time when you received a text or voice mail from someone you know saying, “Hey, do you have time to talk later?  I have something I’d like to discuss.”  Now, bring to mind the internal dialogue that starts in your headspace before you start to type a response or hit the callback button.  What does that conversation sound like?  What does your initial response to the vague request feel like?  Where does your mind go to reason through the possibilities of what that conversation might entail?  What do you start to think about that other person?  Why are they calling for your attention?  The place in this scenario is where an almost instantaneous internal discussion begins and is just one example of what I like to call the “space in-between”.

This space in-between is where you and I have a gap moment after we have received, sent, been the third party to, or experienced a particular message without yet having replied or received a response. It is here where there is a potential for both helpful and harmful interpretations that can unfold into either beneficial or damaging results. How we are in this gap moment is telling to the health of our inner world. 

To help further this picture and go deeper, think about a time where you sent a message, maybe an email to your boss, inquiring about a difficult or bothersome work situation.  When days pass by without a response in your inbox, and you’ve passed each other in the halls at least twice, what story do you start to tell yourself?  “He must not actually care about my happiness here at work to answer my concern”, or “I’m obviously not a valuable asset to him, he can’t even bother to take a moment to address my question”.  Maybe, as you watch them engage easily with your superiors, it sounds like “his priorities are clearly on his office favorites, at least now I know where I stand”.

Before you know it, you have decided that you have the ultimate understanding and authority to clearly depict another person’s motive and reasoning for their actions, or lack thereof.  But perhaps it was actually you who had gotten a letter off in his address and the email never hit his inbox.  Any of this ringing a bell?  We must ask this question: “Are we aware enough of our own impatience and pride to recognize where we are writing a narrative for others without allowing their story to be told?”

We are incredibly quick to decide for others where they are coming from and become the writers of a story that was never ours to tell.

We tend to think of our perspective as the ultimate truth, projecting it onto others.  We shift our stance toward the other party accordingly.  We put up fences, build our walls, and react out of defense mechanisms.  Why do we do this?  I believe that the stories we create in this space, without seeking clarity, are often just reflections of the fears, insecurities, or embitterment within us that we have not yet resolved.

When these remain internalized, staying in the dark and not brought into the light for healing, we are prone to projecting them onto others and make unhelpful ambiguous assumptions: assuming motive and intent from another person causing damage in our relationships.

So, how do we guard against these dangerous ambiguous assumptions and, instead, use this space more constructively to bring health and unity to our relationships?  This work must begin internally to reorient your thoughts and beliefs around the truth for the benefit of yourself and others.  What are some ways we can do this?  Here are a few questions to ponder to start this internal work.  Invite the Lord into this space to shed light on any existing misguided areas within you.  Let Him meet you where you’re at.  Allow yourself to sit and wait patiently on Him, knowing that He is the source of healing and wisdom.

What fears and insecurities do you need to address?

Remember those pesky fears and insecurities we talked about earlier? These are beliefs that aren’t aligned with the character of God, or the identity He’s given us, that we project onto other people when we are vulnerable and feeling exposed. What are you assuming to be true about the other person involved, how they see you, or what their intention is, that actually runs deeper? When your view of who you are, your capabilities, your security, etc. are in question, it can manifest itself through pride. This is displayed in thinking of yourself as higher or more important than the other individual. You assume they see you as you see yourself. It’s essential to humble yourself, repent of your misaligned thinking, and receive gospel truths in these areas. Finally, turn that thinking outward, engaging with others through the lens of resting in that truth.

Do you have the full story?

This is important. Have you gone directly to the individual before making assumptions? Don’t go talk about the person, talk to the person. Go to the source and seek clarity.

It’s not popular, and it’s not easy. But it is the only way to respect and honor the other person, drawing closer to them instead of detaching yourself from them, and actually understand where they are coming from and gain a full picture. Remember, especially when it is a difficult conversation, that there is often a greater trust that is gained in the relationship because you have sought to understand each other.

Assume positive intent.

1st Corinthians 13 talks about love and depicts an aspect of love as “believing all things”.  I think that this is key in assuming positive intent.  When there is ever a conflict of interest or a question raised about another believer’s character, before allowing your mind to wander to assume negatively, or even the worst about the other individual, choose to believe “all things”.  Believe all things that Christ is in that person.  Believe what He is doing in them.  Believe that they are, as you are – although in progress – being transformed into a fuller picture of a reflection of Christ. With their identity fresh in your mind, ask yourself what is most true, most probable, regarding the scenario at hand.  This is not positive thinking, but instead aligning your view with the heart of the gospel.  You are now set up well to have an honest and productive conversation.

Extend the grace you first received.

As you work with humility to find resolve, clarity, and unity in your relationship, seeking to understand before you are understood, it’s important to remember that grace must be the foundation of these reflections, conversations, and forward proceedings in your relationships. If, or when, things get messy (because they very well might), the only way that I have found to extend grace amidst a hurt, disagreement, or misunderstanding when I have been sinned against is to stop and reflect. We must reflect on the unmerited grace and undeserved favor that Jesus bestowed upon us when he died on the cross for the sin we committed against him. It is only as you reflect on this gift you’ve been given that you can allow it to flow out of you to others when they have not deserved it, or even intentionally harmed you. Keep at the forefront of your mind the cross and resurrection that empowers you to live as Jesus lived and love as he loved.

Now, let’s call back to mind that “space in-between”, or the gap moment. Here you have a unique opportunity to press into Jesus, allow him to heal the areas that remain broken within you. You have the invitation to seek clarity before assumption, adopt the perspective of positive intent. You have the privilege to remember the grace you have received that you might extend it to others. Let your mind be transformed by truth, and allow it to flow into your emotions, behavior, and every facet of your life. This is not a work that the flesh loves to do, but it will be a work that benefits you, your relationships, and your heavenly father as you honor the other party. Maybe you will see the benefit here on earth, or maybe you will have to trust that you are storing up treasures in heaven.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)