I believe you should hold your assumptions pretty loose, since most will disappear anyway. I have a friend who calls this process the loss of the assumptive world. But that is a fancy term. Let me tell you how it works in my life, when all the oxygen is sucked out of my smug and comfortable assumptions, and I’m left gasping for air in a place blindsided by grace.
My daughter refuses to live in the world I assumed she should. That world would include prompt thank you notes, normal college degrees, a child or two with a husband she would grow old with. She instead dropped out of college, divorced two husbands, pursued a highly successful and mobile career that takes her around the world, all the time blindsiding me with grace and laughter. When we are together we are like teenagers, talking late, sipping wine and solving life’s puzzles.
I assumed in my ignorance long ago that homosexuality must be a willful choice. Then I met Dan, who lovingly and gently took that assumption away. After attempting suicide in college, he came to understand that he was created gay, and went on to advanced degrees in divinity, mountain climbing expeditions, volunteer missions trips to Latin America, and endless sessions of support for people like me. His life is a witness to the wonderful diversity in God’s world, and has allowed me once more to be blindsided by grace.
At work, my assumptions about people are often simply exploded. A support staff person, a young unmarried woman in her twenties, and already the mother of three children by two different men, couldn’t possibly be nurturing, well-read or a tenacious fighter for the rights of the handicapped, right? Wrong. This wise woman was the emotional provider for a mother dying of cancer, a grandmother with Alzheimer’s Disease, and her own profoundly autistic daughter. I watched in wonder as in one week she buried the first two and completed the vast pile of paperwork to be completed to obtain the maximum level of services for her daughter. And she was the one who would stop in my office early every morning and blindside me with a keen observation about what might be done to make my day a better one.
I mentor a fourth grade Hispanic girl, and when I heard her story my assumptive world went into overdrive. Ten people in a two-bedroom rental with no father and a mom who doesn’t speak English must be the same as poor school performance, squalid living conditions, and general despair, right? Wrong. I’ve been in the apartment, which is clean and well-organized. The kids are loved, nurtured and fed meals around a generous table. While this wonderful young woman needs help from me to solve some of life’s little English language issues, like obtaining a library card or getting a summer swimming pool pass, she does not need me to fill up emotional holes in her life. And so I spend time with her and simply enjoy her, rather than trying to figure out how to change the circumstances of her life. I am blindsided by grace again.
Now my daily prayer is simple: “God, I determine this day to be open to learn new things, but you’ve got to keep my head straight as I do it. I want to step out of my house without a judgment, simply openhanded and clear headed. Let me learn all your world can teach me today. Amen.” I wouldn’t say I’m even good at acting on this prayer. I come around a corner and bump into someone who is still angry with the school board vote to close her charter school, and I recoil before checking myself and pondering what it must have felt like to be on the other side of that vote, and my heart melts. I would not choose to change my vote, but I can choose to feel for those whose lives were altered by it. I pick up the newspaper and read about what I always knew were failed policies in Iraq, and my judgment machine goes into a fever pitch of ‘I told you so.’ Then I am blindsided by a man who regularly appears at our rally in protest, and hear about his sacrifices made in the Battle of Normandy. In his words, “I made it okay for you to stand on your peace street corner. Without me you wouldn’t be able to do that.” Then I walk home, deeply grateful for his sacrifice but also deeply aware of how important it is to continue to protest the policies of our government while not judging the people who I’ve assumed just don’t get it. And I repeat my prayer again.
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