Don’t assume…

Keep your faithful one from presumption as well
so that my faults never control me.
Then I will be blameless and innocent of a grave error.
~ Psalm 19:13

It’s happened to all of us, we’ve made an assumption about someone or something and it’s gotten us in a mess of trouble. Who knew that even the Bible tips us off to this little piece of wisdom – don’t assume (or presume, it’s the same thing… some versions use “proud thoughts” which is also pretty much the same thing).

An assumption is a judgment we make about something or someone that we believe to be true without necessarily having any corroborating evidence.  And we make assumptions about everything! Whether we try to or not, we are champion assumers. For example, did you know that in the first 7 seconds we see someone we make 11 judgments about them? We assume certain things about that person based on what they are wearing, what their expression is, their age, weight, skin color, tattoos, manner of speaking and probably more. Then our imaginations go to work and in a short period of time we can create a whole little fantasy about that person. I’m right, aren’t I? We do this all the time, without even recognizing it.

So why, as the Psalm says, will making assumptions cause my faults to control me? Here’s a little snippet from “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz:

The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking – we take it personally – then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word. That is why whenever we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems.

“Emotional poison” is pretty strong language, but I think it fits. We may get angry, say things that we regret, or act inn an unkind way toward someone all based off of a set of assumptions we have in our heads. They did this… so they don’t understand me… they don’t care about me… they know I don’t like that… they did it on purpose… blah, blah, blah.We react out of this drama that we’ve made up in our heads! When we make assumptions, our faults – temper, prejudice, fears, expectations – tend to override common sense and control us.

Wethern’s Law: Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups.

Why is this important spiritually? Because our spirituality is everything we are body-mind-spirit. When one part is out of sync, the others will be, too. Our hope and goal is to live in harmony with God, ourselves and others. Assumptions take us far from this harmony.

Don Ruiz suggests that the way to stop making assumptions is to ask questions, to make sure communication is clear and that we understand everything another person is trying to tell us. Have the courage to ask the questions until everything is clear. How many times do we stop asking questions because we’re afraid of sounding stupid?

Here’s another suggestion. I was watching an Anthony DeMello video and he suggested that when we have interactions with other people, especially ones that difficult, that we step out of ourselves and observe how we are acting. Not to beat ourselves up, or pat ourselves on the back, but just to attempt an objective look at how we behave. Can we step out of the intensity of the moment, the feelings, the anxiety to see how we respond… are we making assumptions, are we getting defensive, are we shutting down, are we helping or hurting the situation? Ideally, then, we would adjust our mode of communicating to one that is more kind and seeks understanding. Hence, avoiding the assumption trap again.

I know it isn’t easy. It may even be impossible. But perhaps with some awareness we’ll get better and save ourselves from those “grave errors”!

Peace ~ Kaye


The New Normal

Metaphorically there are many different kinds of exile or places where you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, lost, alone, confused, sad, angry, terrified. Some that we named in worship yesterday include: retirement, job loss, moving, divorce, death, broken relationships, illness, having kids, empty nest syndrome, and a new job. In fact, we find ourselves in exile over and over again in our lives.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

In the scripture reading from yesterday (Jer. 29:1, 4-7), the prophet Jeremiah is writing to the people in exile in Babylon to tell them that, essentially, “God says, move on.” Now, I don’t know about you, but I wonder how they felt about that message. Maybe some were happy to finally be given the go-ahead to build, plant, get married and take part in their new city. But I bet others were angry and frustrated. I bet others didn’t want to be told to get on with their lives. They hadn’t asked to be in a new place, had been aching to go home and now they had to give up on those dreams. Maybe they were still deep in the throes of grief and moving on would seem like dishonoring the memory of those they’d lost or left behind.

We’re not so different, really. We may struggle through our different exiles for a long time, dealing with the emotions, fears and loss of a new place. But eventually we need to allow ourselves to live again. Bob Deits, in Life After Loss, says,

Some losses will change the course of your life… It is up to you whether you let them destroy you or help you grow into a stronger, better person. No one can make you grow through loss, but nothing can keep you from growth either… You have been in the depths. You have faced the worst experiences in your life. You have endured more emotional pain longer than you dreamed you could. Now you are beginning to look at the possibilities of a new life. You didn’t ask for a new life. You didn’t want it. But now that it’s here, you will make the most of it. It seems to offer its own joys.

Sometimes a new normal is easy to live into and sometimes we go kicking and screaming. Still we need to go. There are always more possibilities and potentials ahead of us than we are aware. Slowly we set our feet on the path forward, building a new life, planting roots in the soil under our feet, letting our wounds heal, loving the new people who come into our lives and seeking peace where we are. While in our hearts we hold the loves of our past, the lessons of our mistakes, and the wisdom gained through difficulty.



A voice from the Psalms

I have a dear friend who just does not like the Psalms. And I understand where she is coming from as some of them are filled with anger, violence, judgment and a need for revenge. Yesterday, Psalm 137 came up in the rotation of scripture that I use for preaching. It starts as a lament of the ancient Hebrews who were taken into exile by the Babylonians, “But how could we sing a song of YHWH in a foreign land?” But it ends in anger, “A blessing on those who will seize your infants and dash them against the rock!” That was enough to send me looking for a different passage to preach on.

Then I remembered that the Psalms are not intended to be a theological statement, but a sharing a of deep feelings, ardent prayers and struggles of the people of Israel, that their joy may connect with our joy, their grief with our grief. When approached from this angle, I could see and feel the grief of those taken into exile, I knew them importance of remembering for them, and I understood why they were so angry that they would wish pain upon their captors. Haven’t we all been there? Haven’t we all found ourselves in some kind of exile – lost, alone, hurting, outcast, struggling? Haven’t we found ourselves angry at our circumstances and even people who contributed to that? Haven’t we cried out to God in the midst of our misery, heaping all the pain and rage on the Divine’s great shoulders?

I decided the best way to preach this was to become a person from the exile. I took the name Mara, which means bitterness, created her story and shared the Psalm in character yesterday. I hope that it brought the passage alive in a way that simply preaching about it couldn’t accomplish. If you would like to listen to the podcast, simply click here and listen to “Singing in Exile.” For a moment in time, Mara’s grief was mine, her anger was mine, and I knew that God was her greatest treasure in the midst of it all.