We all do it, multiple times a day. Sometimes we’re right. Many times, we’re wrong. It can damage spiritual growth or relationships that have taken years to build. What am I talking about?
Or presumptions, perceptions, speculations, expectations, projections. Whatever you call it, usually it’s about what someone did or didn’t do or about who they are. Perhaps even about what God is or isn’t doing. Or it’s about what something can do for you – if I partake in X activity, I assume I’ll feel better about myself and this will solve my problems. Whatever it may be, we often assume someone’s intent or assume something’s impact.
To be fair, assumptions are necessary since we don’t know everything. And sometimes, even if incorrect, they can be harmless. So assumptions aren’t the problem, the issue is the self-centeredness and sheer laziness that can go into them. Many times our assumptions are rushed and not based in reality. We go so easy on ourselves and so hard or harsh on others. Or we think so little of God and so highly about what an emotional state or object can do for us.
The results can be devastating both spiritually and relationally.
The Problems of Incorrect Assumptions
There are three key dangers about incorrect assumptions.
First, our assumptions typically place ourselves at the center, interpreting the actions of others based on how they makes us look or feel. This is the complete opposite of how God has designed us to know Him and to be a tangible manifestation of His glory.
Second, when we make assumptions, we give ourselves the role of definers of truth rather than God or someone’s original intent. We live in some souped-up reality where we’re king and everyone else has to conform to our preferences and interpretations. It’s interesting, isn’t it? Christians rightfully emphasize authorial intent when interpreting Scripture. Yet as people who understand the importance of truth and the dangers of misinterpretation, we can so easily fall into the trap of not giving our relationships the same care and thoughtfulness.
Third, we usually act based on our assumptions, whether they’re right or not. Unfortunately, if there’s a chasm between our assumption and reality (as there often is), relationships suffer. We think someone meant to ignore or hurt us and we ignore or hurt them right back. We assume the reason someone did something is because they’re clueless, so our view of them diminishes. We don’t get that promotion so we think God is being stingy and our affections for Him lessen. Or we think something will make us feel better, so we choose that, regardless of whether it honors God or others.
To put it bluntly, uninformed or misplaced assumptions can be the death knell of relationships and will stifle spiritual growth.
See the danger? So how can we take dominion over our assumptions and train them for godly purposes?
Ways to Navigate Assumptions
Before we get to practicalities, here are two foundations to addressing assumptions.
Get off the throne. Our life isn’t about us. It never has been and never will be. But as said above, assumptions inherently are about who sits on the throne, who defines reality in our life, and about what’s true and what’s not. So move towards a God-centered perspective of all things.
Value relationships. If the church is a visible manifestation of God’s glory, then we must handle our relationships with delicacy and see the threat that misplaced assumptions pose. They can literally impact the tangible ways for us to know and experience God’s attributes.
Drawing from the two foundations above, here are four practical ways to help you or a counselee navigate assumptions, each of which is interrelated and builds off the others.
1. Don’t act on unverified assumptions.
Yes, you may have felt hurt by what you perceive someone did. Or you may think your perception of someone is correct. That feeling is real. But that doesn’t mean you’re right. Slow down. Write out what you’re thinking. Consider how you might be wrong. Hold the assumption in check until you can verify it.
2. Live in reality, part one: ask someone what they meant.
Building off the previous point, there’s only one way to find out whether someone meant what you think they did: ask them. It may be easier to hide behind your assumption, but consider the long-term impact. So let them know you value the relationship and want to understand what they meant. If needed, gently let them know you took something a particular way, but that you could be wrong. Offer up front that you want to preserve the relationship. A conversation lasting a few minutes could save everyone a lot of angst.
3. Live in reality, part two: follow the sin to the end of the line.
This is hard to do in the moment, but honestly ask yourself what’s going to happen if you keep turning to some substance, emotional state, or object to address what only God can. Get a wise friend to talk it through. Live in reality by recognizing the perils of where your misplaced assumptions lead.
4. Assess how often your assumptions are objectively correct.
Talk with a friend about the last few times you made an assumption – about God, about what someone said, about what something would do for you. How often were you objectively correct? Do you even know if you interpreted someone’s actions rightly? There’s a good chance that like any of us, more often than not, those assumptions didn’t turn out to be true. If that’s the case, go harder on yourself and easier on others, and when in doubt, pick the way that worships God and values relationships. If your assumptions about others actually are correct, though someone may have meant you harm, don’t add sin on top of sin. Remember what relationships represent. Be gracious towards others as God has been gracious to you.
Questions for Reflection
How have you seen unfounded assumptions damage relationships in your own life or in the lives of your counselees? What are some passages of Scripture you would direct your counselee to in dealing with the issue of misplaced assumptions?