“For when we judge the actions of others solely by their effects upon ourselves, we frequently have a false or incomplete understanding of the circumstances.”
During my postpartum convalescence, I am soaking in many good words and ideas from various authors and allowing them to marinate in my soul for future application. The quote above from Dear Jane Austen resonated with me for I recognized that I do this very thing. Whether my children are having irrational emotional outbursts or something someone said rubbed me the wrong way or my husband and I have differing opinions, my negative reactions are usually triggered by how these people are making my life difficult; I’m not taking in the bigger picture, including the experiences of the other people.
This is especially evident in parenting. On those mornings when I get a late start on the day or those nights when delay after delay pushes back dinner and makes bedtime even later, my frayed nerves threaten to snap. Other times there’s constant squabbling or I’ve introduced a special activity that falls into disarray. These situations quickly turn into stressors and again I can’t see past how they are making me feel rather than stepping back and assessing the small crisis objectively. All I can think about is how stressed I am and the tasks ahead feel like Mts. Everest and Kilimanjaro combined. The focus is on me and not them- why are they falling apart? What could I do to diffuse their tension and beckon peace back into the home?
With that said, recognizing the bigger picture of my own life: current events, health trials, exhaustion, etc. is also important. Just as I need to be aware of the roads other people are traversing, I need to do the same for myself. Extending grace to all is a key aspect in leading a peaceful life. The quote above continues on to say, “Rather, give others the benefit of the doubt and assume their motives are innocent unless and until good sense directs you to do otherwise.” Most likely my children aren’t scheming to make my life miserable; my friends aren’t trying to offend; my husband has valid justification for his own opinions. And neither do I have ill motives towards others.
But how do we extend grace to ourselves and others? These are a few steps I want to make into habits:
- Step away: pause, pray, and breathe in order to get a proper perspective on the situation. This can be done in the midst of the situation or in a quiet place away from it.
- Step forward: return to the situation with a peaceful demeanor and a quiet tone. Look in the faces of those around you and smile at them.
- Step in: resume the activity or the conversation. Maybe try a different approach and talk to the others about how they are feeling.
In striving to help my children overcome the challenges presented by their sin natures, I am confronted with my own sin nature. I have to submit to the sanctification process that comes through my children and every other human being I interact with each day. Yes, I feel miserable when I lose my cool. Yes, I regret when I’ve wasted time criticizing people rather than speaking well of them. Yes, I wish I set a more consistent example of Christlikeness for my children than I do. But how encouraging it is when I catch glimpses of progress- like those chaotic times when I stay peaceful!