Love does not despair of the future. Following upon what has just been said, this phrase speaks of the hope of one who knows that others can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential. This does not mean that everything will change in this life. It does involve realizing that, though things may not always turn out as we wish, God may well make crooked lines straight and draw some good from the evil we endure in this world.1
The passage above is from Pope Francis’ Amoris Laetitia in which he talked, among other things, about the nature of love in families. We all say that we love our families and closest friends. None of us are perfect in our practice of that love. Sometimes we can even appear very unloving to those that we care about most. One way to practice love for those that you care most about is to commit to believe the best of them.
I believe that everyone wants the best for those they love. But there’s a big difference between wanting the best for them and believing the best of them. Believing the best of someone doesn’t mean pretending that they never fail or that they never have bad motives. We all fail, and we all have ugly motives at times. Choosing to believe the best about someone means that even during those ugly and broken times we come alongside them and remind them of the good future that we still believe is ahead for them. It’s difficult to maintain this sort of commitment to others, but it can be incredibly encouraging for those we love. Here are a couple of things that might be keeping you from believing the best of the people you love:
A Broken Understanding of Growth
I’ve failed so many times with this one. At some point during my life I came to believe that growth occurs when you find the bad parts of you and your performance and eliminate them. Once you’ve eliminated one thing, you tackle the next. So, when I wanted growth and good things for my daughter, I would point out the things that weren’t working, the parts of her performance that she could improve, or the grades that needed to be pulled up. What I’ve come to realize is that we can always find broken things inside of us to correct. It’s a never ending process. This process applied to my own life led to several months of burnout. The result of always working on your faults is that you are always focused on your faults. It’s impossible to stay positive or motivated when your thoughts are constantly focused on negative things. While growth is about correcting things that need to be corrected, it’s also about affirming the good. I’ve found that for every correction we need at least ten affirmations of good to be healthy in our growth.
Our Past Hurts
Our past hurts or bad experiences can also make it hard to believe the best of those we love. Instead of trusting others, we become suspicious of them. We assume that they will hurt us or let us down in the same way that others did in the past. Our tendency toward self-preservation keeps our guard up continually and makes it hard to see through the bad and still believe the best of others.
Many of us have spent years of our lives, trying to believe the best of everyone. While this sounds like an admirable approach to life, it’s actually quite dangerous. Blindly believing the best of those who have proven to be toxic or dangerous isn’t loving, it’s reckless. If someone is relationally toxic, they may even attempt to manipulate you by using your good nature against you. Believing the best of others requires a great deal of time and emotional energy. That energy is best spent on the small group of people that you are most committed to, or that have proven trustworthy in the past.
To believe that the people you love “can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential ” is an incredible gift. Knowing that others believe in us motivates and encourages us in ways that few things can. So, choose wisely those you love, and love fully those you choose.
1 - Amoris Laetitia of the Holy Father Francis (115)