By Kim Longden
It was my son’s last treatment and all had gone well, but as we were leaving I received information about our account that was, at best, really confusing and, at worst, a bit financially distressing. Things insurance-wise did not appear to be what I had thought they were when we began this process several months ago.
The large building was undergoing renovations, so as we found our way to the exit my son had the usual things he liked to check out. Which hallway would we be routed to this time? What would the stairway look like? Would we catch a glimpse of any construction workers and equipment?
Usually I loved watching his delight in these things and engaged with him in his wonder, but today I was too preoccupied with all the possible implications of the financial information I had just received. I hardly paid attention to his comments and hurried him along when normally I would have happily meandered as he pointed out interesting things along the way.
As we got closer to the exit, the familiar lady in charge of COVID checks made a complimentary comment about… something… I was too preoccupied to truly listen. I gave some aloof response all the while thinking that I just needed to get out of there and make some phone calls and figure this thing out. When we did finally make it home, I got some clarification on the situation, calmed down, and sat with my son. Now that I was in a better frame of mind, I encouraged him to tell me again about all the things he had seen.
Later that evening I was scrolling through social media and saw a meme that said, “It could be that the person next to you is barely holding it together, so choose kind.”
I thought about how I must have looked earlier that day, barely holding it together while weaving my way through the medical building. That distracted, short-tempered mom, not really hearing her child’s delight in the world around him—that was me. That woman who was aloof, or even rude, when shown some small kindness—that was me. Avoiding eye contact, plowing my way through, completely oblivious and possibly even offensive to those around me, barely holding it together—me, me, me.
There are a variety of “choose kind” memes going around social media right now, and when I see them I’m reminded of a wise insight I was given years ago—about how we tend to judge our own actions by our inward intentions and judge others’ actions only by what we see on the outside. My behavior earlier that day, although not necessarily justifiable, was at least understandable—to me. Of course, no one else could see my intentions or what was going on internally, so my outward actions were all they had to go off of.
“Choose kind” is great advice if taken to heart because we’ve all been that person barely holding it together and possibly offending people along the way. Of course, it might be easier to choose kind if we knew what was going on behind the scenes of the people we pass throughout the day, but usually we don’t—so you know what I’ve started doing? Similar to the “gladness” game in the book Pollyanna, I have been attempting what could be called the “best construction” game in order to try to assume the best regarding other peoples’ behavior. Rather than letting annoyance be my first reaction, I have been trying to intentionally imagine what could be going on behind the scenes.
Of course, if someone is in danger, then a different thought process would be more appropriate. I’m talking about all those minor annoyances that occur simply by virtue of the fact that broken people daily interact with other broken people. For example, the store clerk who is moving slowly while the line is growing by the second: maybe she’s frazzled because she’s balancing school, work, and family and it’s hard to keep all those balls up in the air. Or maybe that person who parked super close was in a hurry to get medicine for a sick family member and was too distraught to notice how he parked.
Sometimes the scenario might get a little silly, like the time the car behind us sped past honking in a blaze of glory and I shouted, “Ooo, maybe they’re speeding to the hospital to have a baby!” and my kids groaned, “But mom, SHE was driving!” and I laughed and said, “You never know!”
Because here’s the thing, it’s not so much about whether the projected backstory is realistic or not. It’s not really about the backstory at all. It’s about shifting my focus, trying to remember that there is a human being—an image-bearer of Christ—on the other side of that behavior. It’s about acknowledging the fact that every one of us has a broken backstory. And it’s ultimately about remembering that, when I’m the one struggling and offending people, intentionally or unintentionally, I am daily given grace upon grace in Jesus.
Gratitude to the One who knows all of our broken backstories and meets us there with a fountain of love and forgiveness helps me see the situation in a whole different light.
So, just like I hope those who see me at my worst will put the best construction on my behavior (even though I don’t deserve it!), I will choose to assume the best about others as well.
Honestly, grace is a tough choice to make—my natural bent is to assume the worst, speed up and give my own blaze of glory honk in return. However, just as playing the “gladness” game became second nature for Pollyanna, assuming the best is becoming by degrees more natural for me, too.
And just like Pollyanna’s gladness game had rubbed off on the whole town by the end of the book, I’ve noticed my kids attempting to put the best construction on others’ behaviors, as well. May we raise up the next generation to give grace, assume the best, and love the unlovable by modeling this ourselves—so yes, let us choose kind!
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)