Why did you do that?

Gwynne Johnson's picture

Assuming motives is a common injustice most of us commit without realizing it. Something happens, someone offends us, decisions are made without us and we find ourselves looking for a narrative that explains this painful experience and answers the question “why” did this happen.

We search for motivation behind a particular action or event. We assume we can read motives of another’s heart. However, because we are not mind readers, the motives we assume are frequently inaccurate or misguided.

In a recent study of interpersonal communication I was reminded of an important reality. It is not possible to know for certain the motive of the heart of another unless that person shares with me the “why” of her behavior. I frequently assume that I know, but I am also frequently mistaken. When we know and understand the “why,” chances for clear communication grow exponentially.

Consider this example: Someone calls and simply asks, “What are you doing Saturday night?” They give no other explanation and pause for your response. Now the conversational ball is in your court and you scramble mentally to figure out the “why” which will affect your answer. Why is she asking me? Does she need me to babysit? Does she need me to bring a meal to a sick friend? Does she need me to substitute for her in some task? Maybe she wants to invite me to dinner?

The narrative I assume will affect my response. We do not usually clarify with a question, “why do you ask?” However that question would illumine our communication greatly.
If I am the one asking the question, clear communication can be achieved by stating my intentions when asking the question. “What are you doing Saturday night, and the reason I’m asking is that I was hoping you might join me for a movie.” When I offer the reason behind my question I make my communication clear and relieve the other person of sorting out assumed motives or mistaken narratives.

Even if the reason for the question is to ask for help, when I state my reason I allow the person the freedom to respond to what I am actually asking without having to scramble to understand me.

If we remember that only God can read a heart, we can stop assigning ill or ulterior motives to others. We can choose to think the best of them. On the other hand, we can ask God to search our own hearts and reveal to us our own motives.

Many discussions in the media seek to assign motives and intentions of players in world and national events. They do not understand that God alone knows the heart of another. Indeed sometimes even we ourselves do not know our own motives.

God uses His word to open our eyes to our own motives so that we might align them with His. Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart.

I think that is why God reserves judgment for Himself. Let’s give Him his rightful place and stop trying to judge someone elses'motives and give them the benefit of the doubt.

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