I like labels. They make things easy to define. If I can label those around me, it keeps things nice and orderly–something my structure-craving brain loves.
I have a friend who is the home improvement king. If I ever need help on a project, he would be first on my list to call. The guy just single-handedly renovated his entire kitchen and it looks amazing. I have a friend who is a Bible scholar. If I ever have a question about a Bible verse or chapter, he’s my go-to guy. He’s incredibly smart and knows how to look at a passage from different angles. I have a friend who is a great dad. He has kids older than mine so I know I can call on him and ask those “How did you handle?” questions. And when he does tell me, it’s always in a very grace-filled, encouraging way. I also have friends who are good at finances, lawn care, electronics–I think you get the idea.
But the problem with a label is that while it makes easier to categorize everything in my brain, it gives me a very narrow view of someone. I begin to see people only for what they can do for me, and become blind to what I can do for them. All of these guys are friends not because of that one trait, but because they’re just great guys.
They’re also human. My friend who is the home improvement king has a lot of stress on his job. My friend who is the Bible scholar has big dreams that need encouraging. My friend who is a great dad is grieving the loss of a family member.
Every person in your community, at your job, in your church has a story. Yet so many times we’re content to just read the summaries, aren’t we? We’re content to just be satisfied with what we see on the surface and make our evaluations based solely on that information.
If we’re honest, it can get ugly sometimes. We size up prayer requests based on how rich, how perfect, how beautiful someone’s life is compared to ours. We determine who is and who isn’t worth our sympathy and empathy based on our own evaluation of someone’s worthiness. We decide how someone is worthy of help based on his or her own ability to get themselves out of the situation. We say we love others, but if we’re really honest, sometimes we really only love what we want to love.
But not Jesus. He was passionate about people–even some of the most obnoxious, annoying people. People like Peter the hot-headed, or James and John the arrogant, or even Judas the backstabber. And, when you get down to it, people like me.
But the difference between how Jesus sees others and my default perception is that He sees the full person and his or her complete story, not some edited version. He also knows how that will change when He enters into the story.
So many times I’m content to read the Cliff’s Notes version of those around us, size them up, then move on. But Jesus stopped and jumped into people’s stories.
And there are times when He lets me see those stories as well.
I catch a glimpse at the story behind the student who keeps interrupting me in Sunday school when I find out he is under a lot of pressure at school and home to be perfect. I see the story behind the lady with the screaming kid at the grocery store when I realize she’s trying to teach her daughter that she can’t have everything she wants. I discover the story behind the rude clerk at the gas station when I watch and see that he just got chewed out by the customer in front of me because they were out of a particular brand of cigarettes.
Everyone has a story, a story that is bigger than the one I sometimes see. I just need to take the time to read it. And when I do, it makes it harder to stick a label on someone. They move beyond a single word to become a living, breathing person. Someone who not only deserves my compassion, but my time.
Take time to read the stories of those around you today. And if you really want to be like Jesus, don’t just “read them,” enter those stories.