“You never know another person’s story.”

It’d been a long time since I tried. Several months, if not a year. I was curious if it would be OK, if things would be different, if I wouldn’t hurt.

After nearly three years of being benched from all things related to running, I wanted to try to “workout” again. So on a rainy, cold Monday evening in December, I ventured down to the small gym next to the office of my apartment complex and “worked out” for 10 minutes. Ten. Whole. Minutes. And after my 10 minutes with the elliptical machine set on nearly the lowest setting, I stopped, climbed off and walked out.

This entire scene played out with several onlookers. There were three other people in the tiny space that only had five cardio machines and one set of weights. All three of them saw me enter the room, barely break a sweat and exit quickly.

Recounting the event to a friend with great celebration and enthusiasm because I didn’t hurt doing what I had done for the first time in nearly three years, I added at the end something about how the three witnesses probably thought it was quite odd that I had “worked out” for such a short amount of time.

His immediate response? “It just shows you that you never know another person’s story.”

You never know another person’s story.

Those who know my story would know that 10-whole-minutes without hurting on the elliptical machine was a big deal. A really big deal. They would understand that I needed to start slow and that any longer would have been a mistake. They may even be proud of me for only exercising for 10 minutes. They would not assume it was too short, a little bit pathetic or somewhat pointless to exercise for such a short amount of time. They know my story.

More often than we like to admit, when we’re frustrated with another it’s because we mentally or emotionally assign intent behind why someone has said or done something. Their words or actions are not nearly as incriminating as the reason or motive behind what was outwardly expressed, in our opinion. We put judging accusations around a tone or create an explanation for behavior as if we know what was going on in the individual’s mind, heart or life. We put ourselves in a position of authority that is not ours to claim and declare truth that is [probably] completely untrue. It’s borderline absurd, when you put it that way.

And it destroys relationship.

When we assign intent, it shapes the lens through which we see people, the filter through which we communicate and the guide by which we treat others. It steals away the possibility of friendship and determines whether or not an individual is worthy of receiving our time, attention, influence, appreciation, forgiveness…the list could go on.

Most disastrously, it determines whether or not grace is dispensed. And only one human being who ever walked on the planet has had the right to be a subjective dispenser of grace, and thank goodness Jesus was so unfair.

Thank goodness he sees our hearts. Thank goodness he forgives. Thank goodness he responds in love. Thank goodness he dispenses grace. It makes possible and shapes relationship with the God who created us. He knows our story.

How might our interactions with others be more reflective of Jesus-like grace, allowing for relationship to flourish, when we relinquish the right, that’s not actually ours to claim, to assign intent because we might just not fully know another person’s story?

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3 thoughts on ““You never know another person’s story.”

  1. I always come back to what the Apostle Paul said, “Who am I to judge someone else’s servant?” As a Christian, I belong to God as do other believers. Ultimately, we are accountable to Him. One of my favorite teachings related to this topic is one we used to do for your student internship called “Generous Expectations.” The idea is that whatever is the most positive and gracious way to think about another person’s motives and intent is the default. Then, we pray for divine guidance and discuss the issue in a helpful way with the other person to see what they truly intended or what is the story behind their actions. What you wrote here is so true. And it is always hard for me to do as a perceiver who over analyzes everything. Wishing you the best in Atlanta! Keep in writing. — Chaille Brindley

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