On Wednesday night of this week, I was speaking with someone about being truthful and honest to the people in our lives. He stated that being too open can lead to betrayal and pain and therefore he doesn’t share his story for fear of being taken advantage of. It was a fair argument but I told him maybe his issue wasn’t being fearful of openness but being open to the wrong people. People we can trust, who won’t use our words and experiences against us, who will listen to understand and be a shoulder to lean on are invaluable.
Earlier in the week, I shared a fatherhood presentation to a group of fathers who have young kids in school. There were dads who were going in to work late and some who had worked all night diligently sitting there to learn more about how they could be involved in their children’s lives, especially when it comes to education. After the presentation while saying; “goodbye” to the fathers one of the attendees came up and began speaking with me. She had some questions about getting a father involved and shared her story. What she told me was hard to hear with many issues and other challenges she’s had to overcome. I couldn’t believe how open she was being when we had just met a few moments earlier. She believes I am someone she can trust with her family.
Openness, transparency, is something most say they desire in themselves and others. However, these can bring feelings of uncomfortableness, questions that aren’t easily answered, and an unsettling fear of not being skilled enough to meet the need. When these thoughts are rushing through our minds the need to breathe and be still must be remembered. Most people don’t want you to fix them they simply need someone to listen without judging. If there are problems to solve and mysteries to unravel we can do them together as we travel this path called life.
A few weeks ago I was working outside in my overalls. A friend stopped by and was shocked I looked so “country.” “What are you wearing?” was the first thing he said to me. I was taken aback by how he couldn’t get over my overalls. “I actually have a couple of pairs and wear them to keep from getting too dirty, they have multiple pockets to put things in, and look great with my boots!” I thought he might faint. He’s known me primarily in work and play clothes, never in yard work attire. It was as if a pair of overalls changed his view of me.
Yesterday, I almost threw myself into a political/theological argument a friend was having on Facebook. I thought better of it and remembered that social media is not the place to have deep conversations. As I read the thread of the discussion the primary antagonist held several views I disagree with and supported his arguments with not so pleasant words of attacks and insults. I finally stopped reading the conversation because my view of this man was becoming negative, judgemental and I didn’t even know him!
His beliefs and convictions are not mine but too often, like my friend when seeing me in overalls, differing points of view cause us to see people in certain ways. We use political, theological and a host of other convictions as litmus tests to place people in certain categories, judge them as unworthy, unintellectual, strange, sinful, or label them in other insulting ways.
People are more than their outward appearances and opinions. When we allow our view of them to be shaped by what we see or hear on the outside we are actually revealing more about ourselves than them.
Can You See the Difference? –
I spent most of the late morning and afternoon doing what I’ve been doing every Friday for the past month and a half; raking leaves. The giant Oak tree, the giver of these leaves week after week is almost bare and there shouldn’t be too many more days spent doing this chore.
When raking each week there an interesting thing which happens to my vision. The leaves cover most of the ground when I begin and when I’ve gathered as many as I can it looks like I’ve collected most of the leaves from the ground. However, when I finish and look over the whole yard there seems more leaves missed than when I looked before. It can be discouraging, to still see the leaves, but when I remember the number of leaves I started with I am satisfied with the progress.
In the same way; wisdom tells us to be careful judging people by what we see. We do not know the battles they have faced, the hard victories won, the devastating defeats. The progress made could be miraculous and we insult the work done and the accomplishments achieved when we judge folks at first sight.
What Unites Us –
This morning our Fatherhood Engagement program held a Father-Child reading event in a little town named Hohenwald. The event was at the library in town, so I stopped by Wal-Mart, grabbed a few brunch items and according to the clock in the truck would arrive plenty early to set up and do whatever else needed to be done for a successful affair.
Approaching downtown I noticed people with bright orange jackets, hoodies and hats standing in the middle of the road. I wasn’t sure if something bad had happened but slowed down and proceeded cautiously. Getting closer I realized they were collecting money for something and the light turned green so I wasn’t able to ask; “Why? What reason?”
We were close to getting started at the library when I noticed a woman walking towards the exit. She was wearing a bright orange hat and I stopped her and inquired; “Are you with the folks at the traffic lights? What are you collecting monies for?” She told me they were a local hunting club , raising funds for impoverished children at Christmas. They did this fundraiser every year to help those in need.It was interesting to put the two things together; “hunting club and children’s’ Christmas fundraiser.”
I needed that conversation today. I’m not a hunter, don’t like guns, but I love kids and think everyone should have a little something under the tree on Christmas day. If this woman and I would have talked more we probably would have discovered a lot of differences between us but, hopefully, even more similarities.
After a week of divisiveness and choosing sides, labeling, judging, and protesting I needed to be reminded that what unites us is often fargreater than what divides us.
“May peace and wisdom be upon our nation. Amen.”