A couple months ago, I had the privilege of studying in Europe through the engineering school at my university. Our group consisted of 30 of the brightest minds I’ve ever come in contact with. We were all fairly similar in our career goals, likes and dislikes, and even sometimes our senses of humor. In a program that is so specifically tailored to a certain set of college majors, it wasn’t really a surprise to find so many personalities like my own. But seeing that we spent anywhere from eight to twelve hours of the day together and would then go home at night to sleep in neighboring apartments, we saw a lot of each other’s not so pretty idiosyncrasies… Which, as I’m sure you’re aware, can be… Taxing.
Before embarking on the expedition, we spent a couple hours every Monday in a class designed to help us prepare ourselves for the homework load and the cultural differences that we would experience throughout the course. During one of those first prep sessions I surveyed the students around me and quickly identified those that would become fast friends, and those that I knew I would want to steer clear of to avoid personality conflict. In other words, I judged thirty books by thirty covers simply because it was easier than taking the time to open them one by one to explore their pages.
One of the people I selected for my avoid-at-all-costs list (yeah, I realize how immature that sounds), succeeded in living up to the harsh judgements I passed on that first day. As the weeks went by, I continued to keep my distance because I knew how annoyed I would get with the situations where said person would be. I justified myself by saying closed-minded things like, “oh, they’ll be fine if I ignore them, there are other people in the group that they can spend time with,” and, “I didn’t come on this trip to deal with people that drive me crazy, I came to learn.”
But about three weeks into the trip, that all changed.
I was walking home from class with a couple of those aforementioned, fast friends. As we walked, I dove into a rant about how annoyed I was with this particular person and how I refused to spend an afternoon with them. One of my friends cared enough to call me out for being so pompous. She’d been thinking about this particular person a lot, and had paid attention to their interactions with the group. She said that it wasn’t only me that had avoided them, and that they really didn’t have a “group” that they fit in with. She voiced her concern and told us that we should make an effort to include them more. I responded with frustration and continued to justify my point. As she tried to explain herself further, I continued with my crabby attitude and we both ended up a little miffed.
It didn’t take long for us to forgive one another and drop it, but the thoughts she had shared stuck with me. So much so that I ended up bringing the whole situation up on the phone with my girlfriend the next day. I talked it out with her and she helped me to see this person through a different set of lenses.
As I worked to better understand this individual, it came to light that they had just lost a close friend to cancer. It pained me to think that I had been so caught up in my own opinions of people that I’d missed a chance to love and support someone in need. I’ve always been taught to care for others no matter how I feel about them. But because I chose to look at a label instead of a person, I missed a chance to lift a hand that was hanging down.
I don’t want to miss anymore of those chances.
The more days I spend exploring this planet and the more strangers I learn to love, the better I’m coming to realize that everyone has a back story; everyone is dealing with SOMETHING under the walls that put up to protect themselves from society. We all have demons to face. We all feel insecure and alone at times. We’ve all felt ostracized and judged.
Those feelings are feelings that most of us abhor. None of us wants to feel that way. So why are we so quick to put others in that position?
We are all human; we’re all brothers and sisters. So let’s act like it.
The Apostle Paul taught the Romans, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions… Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Our brothers and sisters don’t have to be just like us to be loved or to feel like they belong. We don’t need to change those things about them that drive us crazy before we can support them.
All Christ asks of us is to love one another– regardless of religious opinions, annoying habits, different looks, cultural beliefs or personal choices.
So that’s what I’m going to work on.
And you’re invited to join me.