I briefly encountered some people the other day– some that made me realize that I still try to fit people into stereotypes far more than I realize. /
We come across all kinds of people in this world, don’t we? People who yell and curse at their kids in the grocery store. People who fade into the background and who you never really notice unless someone points them out. People whose entire conversation consists of bad-mouthing those whose lives they disapprove of. People who look rich and sophisticated and as though they have their act together. People who look as though they haven’t taken a shower, brushed their hair, or taken a moment to adjust their clothing in the last week. /
I “happened” across one of that last sort the other day. /
I was at the library with my laptop, working, while my daughter was busy with a kid’s event. At another computer was a young woman who looked to be in high school, with her mother sitting beside her. There was no one else in the library but us and one librarian.
My first awareness of them was their above-library-volume conversation… something about medicine and seizures and doctors and the girl’s heart and missing school. The girl was the type that tends to fade into the background, and her mother was the kind that was hard to ignore.
I tried to focus on the work I had to get done, but it was very hard.
Then a brother came in, and he was far more aware of library etiquette. He spoke in a quiet whisper, but it was still far too easy to hear him telling his sister that getting back to school was not worth risking her life if she did more than her heart could take. She protested that she wasn’t going to die and her teachers were already giving her so much grace that she just had to get her papers written. Again he protested… and then asked when she’d eaten last. Then he asked how his mother was doing, and that whispered conversation revealed that the mother had diabetes and several other issues. Soon he left to get them some food.
He came back (and yes, they ate in the library), and then left again to get his sister’s prescription filled.
He came back again, and more conversation revealed that their monetary resources were extremely limited… so much that it is quite likely that my tax dollars are paying for their medical costs.
I began praying for them. I prayed for their health and that this girl’s determination to finish school would not be thwarted. Mostly I prayed in the Spirit.
But now, I wonder if God used some of those prayers to open my eyes. Because as I did, I began to realize how many stereotypes this family broke.
They say that you can’t love others more than you love yourself, and the mother looked like she hadn’t the faintest idea how to love herself… yet she continuously voiced only concern for her kids.
The son looked like your average 20-year-old… and you know how often young men in today’s world disparage far more put-together women then this one. Yet this one continuously demonstrated only concern and love for his mother and his sister.
The daughter–who this whole time demonstrated a positively amazing ability to focus on writing her school papers despite her brother and mother’s distractions–is not a high-schooler. She’s going to college for something having to do with criminal justice.
The daughter wondered how she was going to get to classes, and her mother assured her that dad would take her… and I overheard enough to realize that this casually-referred-to “dad” is still there for this woman who is his wife, and he can be counted on to do what he can to help his daughter get through college.
And then I started to feel amazed. By them.
There I sat, with a laptop and a good-paying job and clean, good-fitting clothes and hair that people spend money to get (which happened to be given to me naturally), and the prayers that I was praying for them were prayed as though I had something to give them.
If my high school daughter needed a computer for the day, I’d probably have dropped her off and told her to call me when she was done. Yet this mother and brother seemed more than willing to patiently wait as long as needed, just being there with their daughter and sister. They demonstrated priorities that I often have wrong.
If I had decided I was bored and had gone to look for a book, I’d have picked up something to entertain myself. Yet this woman had picked up an educational book because, as she declared to the empty library, it looked like it was about interesting things.
If I had been discussing the doctor issues that cropped into their conversation…. well, I wouldn’t have been cursing them, but I would definitely have been complaining. Most people would have been cursing. None of these people uttered a single curse word… or even a disparaging remark about anyone… the entire two and a half hours. I doubt the same could have been said of me.
And then the daughter. Once upon a time, I had top colleges begging me to apply to them. I probably could have gotten thousands of dollars of scholarships… and I declined it all because I didn’t want to go to college. I’m not necessarily saying that was the wrong choice for me. But… how much stronger a person is she? I’m thinking this girl with the weak heart is a much stronger person than I am. To persevere and persist against odds that I could only imagine in order to get through college? Wow.
I think back now, and I can’t help wondering if God specifically sent them there to change me. To open my eyes to still more ways that I stereotype people.
How many people do we pass by without a glance? How many do we glance at and think only of whether or not we can do something for them? Pride.
What if we can learn from them?
What if we’re totally clueless about the strength that lies inside of that unassuming disguise?
We are made in the image of God. That image is not just our human features. It is our will to live. Our strength of character. Our ability to love. Our determination.
And I saw God in them.
Father, continue to open my eyes. I’ve asked You for years to show me the world through Your eyes. You know I include people in that, Father. But now I ask that You open my eyes to see individuals–each precious, personally-crafted person I meet–through Your eyes. Overwhelm my sight with this vision, Father, that Your love would then overwhelm my heart.