We Often See What We Look For
A relationship expert once said that relationships can survive, even if they are 90% dysfunctional, if those within the relationship focus on the 10% that is positive. Conversely, a relationship that is 90% compatible can still fail, if those within the relationship focus heavily on the 10% of their relationship that is dysfunctional. I’m not sure where he got his statistics, but I think he had a valid point, because we tend to see what we look for in a relationship and in life. If we look for things which confirm the good and positive, we will find them, and if we look for things which confirm the bad and negative, we will find those, too.
It is part of human nature to focus on those things that validate our preconceived ideas and disregard information to the contrary. It takes a lot to change our course once we’ve set it. As a lay counselor I’ve seen this time and again. When people are leaning toward ending a relationship, they no longer see the good in the other person(s). Their focus shifts to only those things which confirm their opinion that it’s time to leave. The friend or partner or organization can do 20 right things in a row, but the only thing the disgruntled person will notice is the 1 thing that displeased them. This is true whether the relationship is marital, familial, friendship, church body, or even nation. Why are so many people down in our country? Could it be that it is because all we hear is what is wrong, not what is right about our nation? Why does a family leave a church? Often one or two negative experiences turn the trend to where they no longer see anything positive within the fellowship? When we get to the point that we are disregarding anything that does not fit our preconceived notion we have ceased to think rationally about the relationship, and are now acting only viscerally. We’re done.
Often this is driven by pride as much as it is by woundedness. We want to be right. We want to justify ourselves. We want to feel superior, and to be given the right to judge others based on our assumptions and wisdom. But sometimes we can be so right we are wrong. This kind of entrenched attitude denies truth. It tends to make people into objects which we feel we can either control or reject. It totally gets in the way of the ability to love others, to be reconciled and reconcilers, and to grow through doing the difficult work of relational grace. It robs us of the opportunity to grow in our ability to really forgive from our hearts and advance in the ability to administer grace, as God has called us to do.
We often think of Hebrews 11 as the faith chapter, because it gives a Hall-of-Faith rollcall of biblical A-listers and makes note of what their faith accomplished. But it is also is a chapter of grace, because when we read through this list what is note-worthy, beside their accomplishments of faith, is the fact that no mention is made of their glaring faults. We hear nothing of Abraham’s lies, or Sarah’s machinations or temper, or Jacob’s deceptions, or Moses’ manslaughter. Gideon, Samson, Jephthah, and David are mentioned—not in the context of their sin, but of their faith. This is an indication of how God’s grace focuses on the good He does in us, not on the flaws. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty thankful for that for my own sake! I need more people in my life who magnify the good God has put in me, not the flaws He’s working to refine out of me (not that I don’t need the loving rebuke of a godly person from time to time). But I (we) also need to be that kind of person in the life of others, as well.
This does not mean that we disregard negative, dysfunctional, or dangerous behavior. These need to be recognized, called out, dealt with, and sometimes, indeed, a person might need to flee such a relationship because it just isn’t safe. What I am saying is we need to look deeply into ourselves and our motives to discern if we are disregarding good and positive qualities in someone or some group because we are so intent on judging, breaking from, or confirming our own tightly held opinions about others. We need to examine our attitudes toward others in light of what is true (in totality), bathed in grace and love, and led by the Holy Spirit.
We should examine our thoughts about others based on passages such as:
1. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7—Are we seeing them through patient, humble eyes? Are we envious in any way? Are our thoughts about them honoring? Are we self-seeking in regard to our relationship with them? Are we touchy and easily offended by them? Are we keeping score, especially only tallying the negatives and disregarding the positives? Are we in any way delighted when bad happens to them? Do we seek to protect their reputation, their feelings, their honor, the relationship we have with them? Do we trust, when appropriate? Do we hope—for them, for the relationship, for their good? Are we persevering in grace and love with them, even if the relationship needs to distance because of its dangers?
2. Philippians 4:8—Are we striving to see others through the lens of truth, particularly God’s truth? Are we willing to put aside our preconceived opinions about someone when God shows us His truth about them? Are we treating people nobly? Are we seeing what is right with them, what is admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, or just what is wrong? Are our motives pure in our opinions of them?
This focus is not only important when we are considering people, but also when we are looking at the circumstances of the world. When we keep our eyes on the waves swirling around us, we will fear, but when we focus on the Maker of the waves, and see Him for who He is, we will have peace. When the foundations are being shaken are we concentrating on the hype and bad reports from the 24/7 news cycles, or are we fixing our thoughts on the truths and promises of God? Whether it is with our relationships or our circumstances, we will see what we look for, so it is up to us where we choose to set our sights.