Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Pride and Prejudice: What are you? Who are you?

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7b

Almost 10 years ago, when my daughter was just a baby, I was sitting on a bench in a shopping mall, with her in the stroller next to me, when a young couple walked up and then stopped. “Aw! She’s so cute!” the girl said, looking at Jenna’s little baby face smiling up at her. “What is she?” Huh??? I thought. “Um, a baby,” I replied. The couple looked at each other and then back at me, “No, I mean, what is she?” It took me a minute or two to realize that they were inquiring about my daughter’s race, as her skin is darker than mine. “Oh…she’s Hispanic,” I answered.

Until that moment, I really hadn’t given too much thought about what my baby was. I was focused on who she was: my precious little girl Jenna! Yet, in the time that’s passed between then and now, I have realized that we as people often view others (and sometimes ourselves) as what we are, rather than who we are. It’s much easier that way, isn’t it?

What we are is a much simpler question to answer, enabling us to categorize people by their race, their religion, their profession…the list goes on. Who we are is a much more complex question, and requires deeper knowledge of things like character, something often only really known by ourselves and by God. If we are open and transparent enough, perhaps our close family members or friends will know us well enough to be able to say who we are, but it takes time for our fullest, truest selves to be revealed. 

We all come with prejudices – preexisting ideas about people – that are not necessarily positive or negative, but are shaped by what we are taught and by our experiences. That’s one of the dangers of only looking at what someone is, rather than who they are. Describe someone as a “corporate executive” and some might look upon that person as a hardworking, successful pillar of the community, whereas others might think of him as a self-centered, greedy person who doesn’t care about anyone or anything other than lining his own pockets. Unfair, right? You really don’t know which portrayal is accurate – and the truth may lie somewhere in between the extremes – unless you get to know who the person is you’re describing.

Even when we try hard not to label people with our prejudices in mind, we do it anyway. We do it when we think about others, and we do it when we think about ourselves. It is ingrained in our society. In fact, one of the most commonly asked questions we are asked as children is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It continues as adults too. “What college did you go to?” “What do you do?” “What do you drive?” “What do you weigh?” and the really hot one these days, “What (political party) are you?” What, what, what?? With every answer, we put ourselves and others into a little box labeled WHAT. Sometimes, we like the WHAT box a little too much, smug and proud, thinking that’s all that matters. In other cases, the WHAT box doesn't measure up to “standards.” And if we don’t like the WHAT box, we don’t like who is in it.

God knows we have an identity crisis. He knows we tend to make snap judgments, based on outward appearances. That’s why Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” This is not an admonition to ignore sin in others, so that God will ignore yours. It speaks to the attitude we are to have towards each other: humility. Jesus continues, “For others will treat you as you treat them.” Ouch! Yes, judging others only by what they are on the outside can have a boomerang effect.

Jesus goes on to explain how our tendency is to point out the faults in others, while ignoring our own, and that the solution to both pride and prejudice is to take the “board out of our own eye” so we can see our brother clearly. What does that mean? It means that when we realize how much grace we need, by looking at our own shortcomings, we see others in a new light, perhaps being willing to look beyond just what they are and see who they are.

What if our biggest problem with the WHAT box isn't how we view others, though, but rather how we view ourselves? As illustrated in the earlier example of the corporate executive, how we see the WHAT box is a matter of our perspective, and sometimes we don’t have the best view. Is what you see yourself as enough? I had the most wonderful conversation the other day with a friend, whom I consider just delightful. Unfortunately, she hasn't always seen herself that way, suffering from depression. The fact is, we all have insecurities that can cloud our vision of ourselves. Some of our WHAT boxes may be beautiful to others, but look ugly to us. Or perhaps we have blind spots that others can see but we can't. We need grace for ourselves, as much as we need to give it to others.

Fortunately, unlike humans, God isn't concerned with our WHAT boxes. Today’s verse from 1 Samuel 16:7 makes that clear:  God doesn't judge us as books by their covers. He sees much more than what we are, into the very heart of who we are. The Bible is full of examples of people who didn't have what it took (from a human perspective) to be used by God, but He knew they were who He needed to get the job done. No matter what you are, He loves you for who you are, and His love for you never changes. His Word says, in Jeremiah 31, “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love; with unfailing kindness I have drawn you to myself.”

Who are you? His.

What are you? Loved.

How are you at separating the what from the who when thinking about others and yourself? Is your identity found in your relationship with God, who sees your heart and loves you endlessly and unconditionally, or in your WHAT box of outward appearances and worldly achievements?

Pride and Prejudice: What are you? Who are you? originally appeared on Spring Sight blog, by Linda W. Perkins.  Get even more encouragement by following me on FacebookPinterest, and Twitter.

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