We went on vacation last week. (We drove over 2600 miles from Tennessee to Illinois, then through Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma to Texas and back up through Louisiana and Mississippi on the way back home. All that information is irrelevant to this post, I just wanted to share.) It was great, but then we came home.
Have you ever returned home from vacation to find that your lawn has turned into the Amazon Rain Forest? So much so that you’re concerned that dogs and small children may be lost in your backyard? That was the case for me when we pulled in Saturday morning. It was embarrassing. Not only was the grass a foot high, but in the back corner of my yard (street side, of course), it looked like crabgrass and corn had spawned some kind of mutant 3-foot tall baby that had sprouted in a 5’x10’ section.
I spent about 6 hours on Saturday trying to reign it all back in, mowing (twice), edging, weed eating, the whole bit. All the time in the yard gave me some time to think about what the neighbors must have thought about us while we were away. I know what I would have thought of me had I seen my yard: what kind of absolute waste of space allows his yard to get to that point?! Which, in turn, led me to wonder this: Why is it that our first inclination is to think the absolute worst of people?
If I had seen my yard, I would have thought, “that guy obviously doesn’t care about our neighborhood and he’s driving home values down and he’s just lazy.” I would not have thought, “That guy got up early the morning he was leaving for vacation in order to mow his yard only to find out that it was storming and he couldn’t mow.”
When I hear a parent who asks a lot of questions in a school orientation at the beginning of the school year, my inclination is to think, “Listen to that difficult and high-maintenance parent, I hope their child’s not in my class.” I’m usually slow to think, “That parent loves their kids so much and they’re just nervous about sending them into a new environment.”
When a jerk cuts me off in traffic, I think some things I can’t necessarily repeat, but the gist of it is, “What a jerk-face, selfish, inconsiderate driver. Golly gee whiz, I am angry.” It’s rare that my first thought would be, “I bet they just got some bad news and they’re on the way to the hospital to see somebody.”
These are just a few minor examples, but there are hundreds of ways that people don’t act the way I’d like them to act in any given day. And as a confession, I’ll admit that my first response about them is not always positive; instead, I just assume the worst of them.
Well, here’s a real simple fix to help other people when you think they’re the worst: STOP IT! Someone asked Jesus once what was the greatest commandment in all of Scripture. He summed it all up into two commandments, and the second one was this: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Imagine what kind of transformation might happen in the world if the followers of Jesus implemented that one, simple command. Love your neighbor as yourself. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best of people rather than the worst of people. Give other people the same kind of understanding that you would give to yourself in any given situation. I think that most of the time, other people are the worst not because of anything they are or anything they’ve done, but simply because I assume the worst of them. That’s my problem, not theirs.