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"What we have here is a failure to communicate."

I have a few old classic movie scenes and lines that are impossible for me to forget, even if I wanted to do so.

One that stands out in my memory involves "Cool Hand Luke." My favorite line from that movie? “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Here’s the scene itself, in case you care to share in my reminiscence.

My memory of this infamous line is triggered in my mind whenever I feel misunderstood after repeated attempts to communicate with another person. Sometimes I’m the speaker. Sometimes I’m the listener and I feel helpless to make the other person feel understood. Either way we arrive at one of those Cool Hand Luke moments.

Am I alone in having this experience?

What I find about myself is that understanding and being understood carries extreme value in some relationships and slight value in others. If it’s someone I love, misunderstandings can be painful and even threaten my experience of love. I don’t easily feel loved and misunderstood at the same time.

Quite the contrary.

In tracing my own failure to effectively and accurately understand others, who may in turn then question my love for them, the fault most often begins with my having made a hasty assumption. Assuming the wrong thing about someone gets me into a world of hurts, especially in an otherwise loving relationship. After 76 years of practice that’s never made perfect, the best I seem to do is question my own assumptions and then ask questions in hopes of gaining a more accurate understanding of my loved ones.

In my experience, both personally with my wife of 55 years and professionally with the many hundreds of clients I’ve seen over the last 40 plus years as a licensed therapist, the #1 ingredient in a loving relationship is accurate understanding or successful communication. And the #1 cause of a failure to communicate is an unquestioned assumption.

This pertains to self-love as well as other-love. We all make assumptions about ourselves that are also untrue. We believe lies about ourselves. We misunderstand ourselves in ways that threaten our ability to love ourselves. Yet, if we learn to question our assumptions and change our inner self-talk to better know and understand ourselves (the object of a great deal of our psychotherapy experiences), we then grow to love and appreciate ourselves far better than before.

Now let me test this out with another assumption. Here goes.

I assume this also pertains to our relationship with God, as well as with self or others.

What do you think?

Is it possible to assume something about God that is actually untrue? To actually believe a lie about God. To misunderstand God enough to actually threaten our love relationship, at least on our end?

Let’s say, for instance, that we assume that a loving God would stop bad things from happening to good people. Have you ever made that assumption before? If so, what happens to your love for God when bad things do happen to good people? People you’ve even prayed for and counted on God to protect or bless or perhaps heal? If we make such an assumption about what a loving God would or should do, then what happens to our understanding or trust in that loving God? Does it render God’s being maybe a bit less knowable or a bit more mysterious? Or, in all honestly, maybe even a bit less lovable on our own part?

Thomas Jay Oord, whom I regard as a friend, has written a wonderful book entitled, “God Can’t,” that does a masterful job of questioning the wrong assumptions we all too often make about God. It aims to facilitate our stronger love for God by providing our better knowledge and understanding of God’s love. It makes God a much less mysterious lover who was otherwise hard to figure out and actually trust. It’s a must read for anyone who wants to love and trust God more during times when, yes, even bad things are happening to good people.

It's most likely true that faith itself rests upon some set of assumptions. I know some faithful atheists who assume there is no God. I also know, and once identified as such myself, some faithful agnostics who assume God’s very existence is unknowable. Whether we have any communication with God or not rests on how well we question our own assumptions. Otherwise, can you think of how easily we might have a failure to communicate even in a spiritual relationship? Faulty assumptions can stop communication and trust in its tracks.

Perhaps we all need to more often question our assumptions about ourselves, about others, and even about God. Perhaps we all need to understand and know better so we can love better.

Otherwise, what we may have here is less love than is truly possible and actually available both from ourselves and for ourselves. What we may have here is a failure to communicate.

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