Anxiety’s False Interpretations (Part 4): Jumping to Conclusions

Anxiety makes everything seem so urgent. We feel the immediate need to make decisions, to react, to respond, to do something. There is a mounting pressure in our minds and emotions that demands a response. The pace of our thoughts and the feelings of pressure make it difficult to think carefully and comprehensively about our situations. As a result, anxiety often jumps to conclusions. The Bible, however, encourages us to gather all the relevant data before we make our decisions.

Jumping to conclusions means that we determine an outcome before we have enough data to justify our conclusions. When anxiety is driving the interpretation it always confirms the worst possible outcome. So,   before she even took her tests, Sarah determined she was going to flunk. Michael believed his blind date was not going to be interested in him. Evan determined that no one at church would talk to him that morning. And, Carter determined that his girlfriend didn’t care about his feelings when she bought herself a milkshake but didn’t bring one to him. In each instance the individual took an emotionally ambiguous situation, and made an interpretive decision prior to having all the facts needed to inform that conclusions.

Scripture warns us that this is an unproductive, and indeed an unwise, way to live. So, Proverbs 18 gives us both the negative warning against jumping to conclusions, and the positive alternative. We read:

If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame. (v. 13)

An intelligent heart acquires knowledge,
and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. (v. 15)

In the first verse, we are told that jumping to conclusions makes us foolish. In the example used, we speak before we rightly understand the person to whom we are speaking. In my own life I recall a very obvious example of this error. My employer had told me, on Monday, that he wanted me to come by his house at the end of the week because he needed to talk with me. I began to panic and wondered why he would need to talk to me at his house. At that moment anxiety began to drive my interpretation of the situation and I concluded that he was going to fire me. I spent the rest of the week dwelling on this thought and became so stressed about it that I broke out in a rash. At the end of the week I went to my boss’s house and he asked me if I would take care of his pool while he was away on vacation. I determined the outcome before I listened to him and as a result, became a fool.

The second verse in Proverbs 18 gives us a positive alternative to jumping to conclusions: seek knowledge. We want to strive to understand the situation and make an informed decision about how to respond. If the fool speaks before hearing, then the wise person has ears that seek knowledge.

Applying this principle to the broader category of interpretive decisions, we want to evaluate our assessments to make sure that we have all the relevant data before drawing our conclusions. In an effort, then, to help ourselves be wise and not foolish we need to press back against anxiety by asking ourselves some questions:

  1. Have I allowed myself enough time to make an informed conclusions, or did I foolishly rush to an interpretation of this situation?
  2. Is there any information that, if I possessed it, would alter my conclusion?
  3. Have I examined all the relevant data to inform my conclusion?

Asking these questions isn’t easy, of course, when our emotions are running hot and fast, but asking them can be a means to slowing the pace of our thoughts and decision making. Wisdom asserts the need to have all the relevant information before drawing a conclusion. I recommend actually writing out answers to the three questions and using them as a type of self-interview.

When we aren’t sure about our analysis one of the best things to do is simply to pray. God, after all, delights to give us wisdom (James 1:5). As we seek Him we may become more clear in our thinking and be able to discern the truth more accurately. If anxiety interprets a situation by jumping to conclusions, wisdom will want to analyze all the relevant data before drawing our conclusions.

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