Suggested Reading: Genesis 50:7-21
When my son was younger he had a game he played sometimes where he liked to sneak up behind me and attack me. Sometimes he had a play sword. Sometimes he tried to jump on my back. Sometimes he liked to try a hit-and-run where he popped my rear end and then ran off. When he started this game, he was in a playful mood and tended to believe everyone else was as well. Sometimes I was and I turned around and played back. At other times, he caught me in the middle of something or when playing wassn’t an option and so I either made a subdued response or laughed and told him that we would play when I was finished. Regardless of my verbal response, my son almost always came at me again, thinking my response was just the way I was playing the game. Because he was in a playful mood and was thinking that way, he expected me to think that way, too, whether I really did or not. So, even when I specifically told him I couldn’t play right that second, he thought my response was a playful one because his would have been.
At another end of the spectrum, Joseph experienced the same kind of mindset from his own brothers in Genesis chapter 50. Several chapters and years before, Joseph had reconciled himself to his brothers. He had revealed himself as the Prime Minister of Egypt, telling them that he held nothing against them for selling him into slavery as a child, reminding them that God had used that experience to provide for hundreds of thousands of people during a time of intense famine. As far as he was concerned, God had set the whole thing up, so he forgave them. He then took in their families and their flocks, providing for all of them, and reassuring them of his good intentions toward them. But when Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong we did to him?” (Genesis 50:15, NIV). Because they would hold a grudge and pretend to be civil in front of their father (they had already done that) they assumed Joseph would as well, even though he had gone out of his way to reassure them and demonstrate that he had forgiven them.
Quite often, we assume things about how people will respond to certain situations or conversations because we know how we would respond. But those kinds of assumptions normally just get us into trouble. No two people are exactly alike and no two people have the same thought processes, no matter how similar they may be. How can we possibly know how people are going to respond to situations or conversations? The fact that we tend to dwell on a particular event doesn’t mean others do too. And the fact that we have let go of the past doesn’t mean everyone else necessarily has.
Before we make assumptions about what other people are going to do or think, let’s give them a chance to respond. What scares you to death may not bother anyone else a bit and what we take for granted other people may have not yet worked through. Give people a chance to respond. Don’t assume you know how they will react.