I was going through Jon’s accounts recently, and was blown away at how many emails he sent a day. We often talked about and prayed for the people he wrote, but I was still impressed at the sheer number of people he corresponded with and the frequency of these interactions. Jon had a roster of guys he talked to regularly, seven of which he called each day of the week to pray for and be prayed for. Every day he’d open up his phone and call a person in his contact list. The next day, the next contact. When he got to the end of the list, he started over.
Those that know Jon (especially from his younger years) know that he was not the most social guy in the room. He actually struggled a lot in social settings, and often had anxiety in groups as a young man. He chronicled the awkwardness he felt when first visiting a church group because he didn’t know how to act without his inhibitions lowered by alcohol. Jon went to Montessori school until he was in fifth grade and preferred independent learning to group interactions. He was happy with one or two friends. So, how does a guy who doesn’t prefer to socialize start calling and emailing multiple people a day?
Early in marriage, Jon turned to me and said “I want to be more like Kevin Palm and Alex D’Brot. They make me feel known and loved and cared for. What is it about them that’s just so… different?” Kevin and Alex are the type of guys that make you feel like you’re the only person in the room. They remember the intimate details of your last conversation and ask for updates. They always treat you like you’re important, whether you’re the Queen of England or a field mouse. They never make you feel like they’re in a hurry. Jon and I spent a lot of time talking about what set them apart. The obvious answer is that these guys read the Bible and did what it said. It became Jon’s mission to make people feel like how Alex and Kevin made him feel. He said it was like being in the presence of Jesus.
So often we look at people and see what they can do for us. Or, we are insecure and wonder what they think of us. Either way, it’s about us. Can I get status by being associated with this person? Can I get their adoration by impressing them? Can’t they tell I’m hungry and need my food NOW? Doesn’t he know that I feel so forgotten when he doesn’t take out the trash? Is this homeless guy going to spend my money on drugs or a good cause? The common denominator is that the interaction is about how I feel and meeting my needs rather than about them at all. We walk through life seeing people as a way to positively or negatively influence our experience. We flip someone off and rage when someone won’t let us in on the freeway. How DARE they?! But what if that person didn’t let you in because they’re following the ambulance that’s transporting their loved one? Or what if they just didn’t see you? It’s all about perspective.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:36-39
Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your neighbor as yourself. This requires a MASSIVE perspective shift. But oh how freeing that perspective is!! Instead of trying to get in with the crowd that understands you best, try to understand each person because each one is fearfully and wonderfully made. Instead of trying to impress people, try to learn what makes them tick. Instead of assuming or accusing, get curious. Suddenly, there’s room at the table for the jock and the nerd. Both are beautiful facets of unique individuals. Neither is inherently better or worse. They’re just different.
As humans, we love to rank and order and categorize and arrange. We love to see someone, neatly categorize them, slap a label on them, and move on. Think about all of our systems of categorizing and filing: genus, phylum, class, species, gasses, liquids, metals, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, prose, vegetable, legume, fruit… the list goes on and on. But, humans are so much more complex than the categories and binaries we’ve allotted: Republican or democrat. Gay or straight. Tall or short. Introverted or extroverted. We want to pick from a handful of descriptors (likely the ones that are most important to us) and then compare if we measure up to or align with this person. Then we assess if this person will be a valuable asset to our life. But what makes a human valuable is NOT their interests or passions or intellect. Humans are valuable in their own right.
What if we see people as the Bible commands us to see them? What if we get to know them for who they are rather than what they can do for us or how they can make us feel? Then our love becomes unconditional, and our capacity to love becomes much deeper. I lived the first 30ish years of my life with a different perspective. I desperately wanted to be loved, and sought love from anyone and everyone that would give it to me. But I only wanted to receive love, and was a pretty terrible giver. Watching Jon grow in this was one of the great joys of our marriage, and one of the best gifts he ever gave me. His passion for loving others was contagious. I saw the way he lived and couldn’t help but get on board. He threw preconceived notions to the wind and got to know people for who they are. He asked great questions and cared deeply for each person. He wasn’t worried about what they thought of him. He took what God said about who he was at face value, and didn’t need people to affirm him. He could appreciate viewpoints other than his own and consider them carefully because he didn’t perceive them as an attack on his identity.
The Beatles wrote a song called Eleanor Rigby that captures the way many of us go through life. We are so focused on our own struggles, worries, fears, and concerns that we miss the treasure that’s right in front of our face. And what a shame it would be to miss out on people and relationships because we’re too wrapped up in our own worries, trying to measure up to a curated social media profile, or trying to impress “them” (whoever “them” is anyway). We are not meant to live in isolation. Don’t miss the simple joy of looking someone in the eye and getting to know them for who they are. As you do, you’ll get to know a facet of God’s heart. And the more you know God, the freer life becomes.
This was so good!! So apropos for the season I am in right now. I needed to read this, hear it and grow in it. Thank you.