I am a jumper. Not someone who jumps out of airplanes or off bridges with bungee cords wrapped around me. I jump to conclusions. I take something I hear and within a matter of moments I have it figured out. I'm not correct with a lot of my assumptions, but strangely, that doesn't stop my perpetual jumping.
The surprising thing, even though I've known me for a long time, is how boldly I jump. As a black and white thinker, it's all or nothing. Although I've tried at times to incorporate shades of color, eventually I give up and start jumping again. Or as wise King Solomon said, "As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness" (Proverbs 26:11).
Jumping to Conclusions Hurts.
With Christmas almost upon us, I'd already started thinking about how special it was going to be with our new daughter-in-law in the family. When your children marry, no one readies you for the fact your holidays will look different. I imagined it would be like the old television reunions, such as when the Waltons got together with all the children grown with children of their own, caught up in the merriment, almost blinded by the dazzling smiles. We'd be surrounded by delectable food and experience laughter to the full. So I jumped to the conclusion that we'd share Christmas day with my son and his wife and started mentally making plans.
Then came the call.
I knew from the beginning it wasn't going to be a good conversation. My son spent a lot of time hesitating before he broke the news that we would not be spending the holiday together as a family.
After he finished his announcement, I had a choice. I could:
- ask God for grace to accept this change of plans;
- get upset.
Hindsight is so valuable, but so late. I chose number 2. I wanted to choose number 1. But having already experienced the Christmas fun in my mind, I felt as though they were ripping everything from me.
The result of my jumping to conclusions was that I hurt feelings, and not just my own. Then when I attempted to explain myself, I managed instead only to send others on a guilt trip. I have perfected this to the point I can do it even without words. (I think most mothers can!)
Fortunately, while we were able to work through that Christmas, I was reminded again it's best not to jump to conclusions. I also learned it's better and more grown-up to take responsibility for my actions, words, and thoughts. Thankfully, God provides many additional opportunities for learning that we don't get the first time around.
Mature People Take Responsibility.
I could have avoided a lot of hurt if I would have gone slower, maybe even asking myself the simple question, "What if I'm wrong?"
This was a fairly new question for me, one I never would have asked years ago. Why should I? I mean, my track record was impeccable. Never mind that I only kept track of my wins. I still gained confidence with each one. And if I was wrong, then I would do what any self-inflated egotist does—I would blame it on someone else.
Taking responsibility isn't something that comes automatically to me. But when subsequent holidays came around and the time came to discuss which days we would spend with family, I thought back to that Christmas. From then on I saw my responsibility in the matter. I owned it.
I Could Be Wrong.
I never wanted to repeat that Christmas debacle. So instead I pursued the fine art of quieting myself and gathering needed information first. Then I processed it so I could respond, instead of just reacting.
The next time I was tempted to jump to conclusions I saw this invisible flashing light, representing DANGER. Aborting my plan, I put away my measuring cup that I used to make sure both sides of the family got equal time. Instead I asked God to help me enjoy the time I had with my family. I chose not to jump.
I'm tired of jumping. I'd rather keep my feet on solid ground, take in information around me, and after assimilating it, ask myself if I could be wrong. Being right isn't all it's cracked up to be anyway. It's kind of lonely.
Through the years it grew easier to see my fallibility—such as the time I shared with my church prayer group that so-and-so had passed away. A couple weeks later I realized I'd buried the wrong person. That was tricky. Another time I closed down a perfectly good establishment, convinced I was right, as usual.
I've come to see that I'm wrong a lot. It's easier living in this world with the freedom to make mistakes, to be wrong. It's human. And you don't have to be labeled foolish: "The wise don't make a show of their knowledge, but fools broadcast their foolishness" (Proverbs 12:23).
Years ago at a garage sale with my friend, I noticed a game I used to own selling for a dollar. So I picked it up, heading to a card table with a smiling elderly lady.
"You'll like that game; it's with letters," she bubbled.
Her words had hardly reached my ears when I immediately retorted, "No, I've had this game before; it's with numbers."
I smiled as I said it, but my friend noticed how smug I was.
"You just had to say that, didn't you?" my friend asked softly. Sometimes it's the softest words that are the most difficult to hear.
"What?" I defended myself. "She was wrong!"
"What difference did it make?"
I've had years to think about that question. Years ago, knowing I was right demanded I prove it. Not so much anymore.
One other thing I can't forget about that interchange was the woman's response.
She smiled. It was a genuine smile, too, not one that she pasted on. Grace smiles instead of having to be right. In similar situations, I don't think people have tasted grace from me. But now, being a little more seasoned, I actually start sentences with, "I could be wrong …"
I eat less crow now. It's better for my digestion. And I really care less about being right. Lots less. I've learned a lot from Proverbs: "Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions" (18:2).
I now think about the other person—something I didn't even notice before.
Is Change Possible?
There's only one reason I changed, and continue to change. God lovingly showed me I was wrapped up in me.
So what can we do to care less about being right and care more about others? To stop jumping to conclusions that may be—and often are—wrong?
God is in the business of transforming us to the image of his Son, Jesus. Skillfully, he uses situations, and sometimes even other people, to sand off our rough edges. He allows things in our lives that become painful reminders that we aren't always right, that we don't always have it figured out, that we are human, and that we often need to keep silent about everything we think we know or should share.
As we spend more time letting God do his transforming work, the easier it is to admit when we've made a mistake. And then we see God working in others as they extend grace too.
Being right is a form of control, an indication of pride. God hates pride. Always did, always will. Hated it so much he sent his Son to die for our pride. Jesus wasn't proud. Instead he wore humility every day he was on earth. He wore it all the way to Calvary. He was right, but he kept his mouth shut. The more I let God work, the more I'll look like Jesus.
The more time we spend letting God do his transforming work, the easier it becomes to admit when we've made a mistake. And then we also get to see God work in others as they extend grace to us.
Anne Peterson is a poet, speaker, and author of more than 42 published Bible studies. www.annepeterson.com.