I’ll Let You be You

You know when we were talking the other day? It was the conversation that we humans often seem to have – the one in which we try our damndest to understand each other, to be understood, but no matter how many words we say or write, it’s still not enough. No matter our intentions or herculean efforts to put into words what is deep inside of us, this conversation will never end.

Anyway, when we were talking the other day, I said this thing. I think we’ve all said this thing to someone else at one point. You told me something, I think you were doing your best to help me understand you, and then I said, “You did that because you think…”

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Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with a sense of joy about my job. One of the best parts of my job is that I have the opportunity to talk to some of the most interesting people from a wide range of interests, socioeconomics, and life experiences. I mean, I’m no Barbara Walters, and you probably don’t even know the names of half the people I meet with, but they’re no less interesting — and honestly, quite often, more so — than the most famous people.

Anyway, I was meeting with someone and I can’t remember what we were talking about — probably something about cross-religion dialogue — but he used the words “generosity of relationship.” And I while I’ve read plenty about how being generous towards one’s partner has a positive effect on a relationship (you really should read this article), it was clear in the context that’s not what he meant. So I asked him to unpack what he was trying to say, and here’s what he said he meant. (I asked him to repeat it a couple times, so I could capture it word for word.)

“What I mean is that I’ll let you be the creator of the image of you in my mind to the degree that I am able.”

In other words, instead of playing armchair psychologist, instead of thinking that I know what’s happening in your head, instead of jumping to conclusions about why you do what you do or say what you say, I’ll let you define it for me.

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Sometimes we take a personality test, or read an article or somehow come upon an insight, and it causes us to think “oh, this is why my spouse/friend/child/parent acts the way they do.”

And you know what? Occasionally we’re right. But, perhaps more often, we’re not. This is what I’ve learned in nearly 16 years of pastoral ministry. You may think you know why someone does what they do, but you don’t actually know. Personally, I get myself in all kinds of trouble when I assume that I understand why people say the things and act the way they do.

I’m always a better pastor, husband, father, friend, human being when, even if I think I know the why of someone’s behavior, I assume I don’t and proceed with questions, if I “let you be the creator of your image in my head.”

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When I said to you the other day, “You did that because you think…” that wasn’t fair. And I’m sorry. What I should have asked was, “Have you thought about why you did what you did in that situation?”

So, here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try my best to stop assuming I know why you do what you do and let you be the creator of the image of you in my head.

I know that when it comes to me, I’m complicated. My emotions, my thoughts, my circumstances all lead to a complex web of reasons for why I say what I say and do what I do. I don’t even understand myself sometimes. I think that’s part of the inward journey. I think that’s what growing up and becoming a mature adult is all about.

So, until I’ve nailed my own stuff down, I’m going to stop assuming I’ve figured you out. (I think Jesus may have said something about this in terms of specks and logs and eyes.)

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So here it is. Can we commit to this together?

I’ll let you be you.

And, if you could, will you let me be me?

And we’ll keep leaning in, tenderly asking each other questions; learning and growing together. And we’ll be generous in our relationship. And maybe together, by asking questions, we’ll help each other find our truest selves.

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