The other day, I was swimming with my daughters at the indoor community pool when a woman with a little baby swam closeby. My daughter Renee said hello to the baby, so I asked, “How old is he?”
“It’s actually a girl,” said the woman, “and she’s seven months.”
I felt embarrassed and said something completely inaccurate about how people could’ve mistaken our daughters for boys when they were babies and had shorter hair (actually, neither of them was ever mistaken for a boy). That felt awkward too, so I decided to change the subject, which was helped by the fact that the baby had a small, pink welt on her forehead.
“Did she take a tumble and get a little boo-boo?” I asked.
“No, that’s a birthmark,” said the lady.
At this point, I probably should have just gone underwater and pretended to play Marco Polo with the girls, but no – I kept going.
“What’s her name?” I asked, and the woman said something that sounded like “Sochi.”
“Oh,” I said, “is she named after the Russian city?”
“No, we’re Mexican. It’s a family name, and it’s spelled S-O-X-C-I.”
I suppose the happy ending to the story is that, at this point, I gave up trying to ask any more questions that were based upon my inaccurate assumptions. But even so, I’m kind of grateful for the whole experience.
So many of our interactions with other people are based upon our inaccurate assumptions – and not just assumptions about potentially embarrassing things like whether a woman is pregnant. We assume things about whether a person likes us; whether they have immovable positions on religious issues; or what their parenting style is. Those kinds of assumptions create barriers to entering into authentic relationships because they often simplify and obscure who a person really is. And I think God wants to break those barriers down.
That’s why I’m grateful for awkward moments like the one at the pool when I realize I’ve unnecessarily got my foot firmly lodged in my mouth. I feel like God, who literally orders each of my footsteps (Psalm 37:23), allows me to walk into those situations for the purpose of reminding me how risky it can be to make assumptions about others – especially those unspoken assumptions that others don’t see, but probably pick up on intuitively.
Moments like that can be catalysts for turning our pride on its head. They are divine reminders that when we approach people, we ought to do so out of a God-given, open-minded curiosity, which is one of the most powerful ways of helping people feel loved.