Whether strengthening communities after a contentious election cycle, or strengthening a relationship with a friend or co-worker, we all have to work toward bringing out the best in one another. To do this task well, each party must envision the other, not only as the other currently is, but also as the other should and will be. To envision, and relate to, the other in this way is to exhibit virtues that are crucial for any healthy and stable long-term relationship.
The biblical narrative contains some rather dramatic instances of God helping people live into their future selves. Gideon is addressed as a “mighty warrior” before he had fought any battles (and while his present focus was on hiding his crops from would-be thieves!) Peter is named the “Rock” on which Jesus would build his Church, even though his journey toward unwavering discipleship was only in its beginning stages. Paul is given the remit to lead the mission movement to the Gentiles, even though his zeal for influencing others had hitherto been sadly misdirected.
In these and other cases, God shares his vision for what people could be. And he helps them live into this future, better version of themselves. Grace, patience, and encouragement are needed in this mentoring task—in large and continuous measure.
So we have our example of how we also must relate to others, whether work colleagues, friends or family members. If we are to bring out the best in them, we have to allow them room to grow, even room to fail sometimes. Sometimes extravagant grace will be needed. We have to be in it for the long haul, recognizing that our patience will no doubt be seriously tested at times. And we have to continue to encourage, offering positive words and actions when the other person goes through droughts and disappointments.
Here might be a good first step for all of us, in this effort to relate to others as the future people they are becoming. We can pay careful attention to our language, to the way we phrase things. Parents discover the power of this point when correcting their children. When a child puts forth a lazy, haphazard effort at a household chore, we can say, “That’s a really poor job.” Or worse, we can say, “Why can’t you ever do things the right way?” Alternatively, we can keep a vision of the child’s better, future self squarely in view: “I know you’re better than this. Use the creativity and work ethic I know you have and show me how it should be done!”
These same principles surely apply to working with colleagues in the marketplace. They apply to pastors who seek to disciple people in their congregations. Principles of mentoring individuals and managing groups don’t really change. Only the contexts do.
I’m trying to watch my language these days. I’m trying to make sure it aligns with this model of relating to people not only as they currently are, but also as the people I know God wants them to become. I find it a really interesting model to try to emulate when I talk with others at work and in other walks of life. But I’ll be honest. I also find it really challenging. It takes creative thinking, and it’s not yet enough of a fixed habit that I can do it without reflectively choosing each word whenever I speak. Maybe others will relate to me as my own future, best self and give me grace as I’m finding my way!
Kevin Kinghorn is Editor for Faith and Work Collective.