My mother always told me not to judge a book by its cover. Often pretty outsides cover not-so-pretty insides and vice versa. Like this book here I found on the top shelf of our loft library . . .
From the outside, it looks like a beat up dictionary or something, not inviting. But I opened it anyway and found a family heirloom—apparently a commentary on some New Testament books, written by Martin Luther, this version published in Stockholm, Sweden, 1861. The front liner page has beautiful handwritten birthdates of Swedish relatives, generations ago. Holding history in my hands, smelling and feeling the delicate yellowed pages—this is why I keep books on my shelves in lieu of an electronic book reader.
It’s not just books that have covers. How often I misjudge people the same way as books. Those not pretty on the outside—the poor, the dirty, the socially unrefined, the unintelligent, the uneducated—what’s on the inside? What’s the state of their hearts?
Or how about the pretty on the outside? How often do I misjudge people based on appearances? The rich, the pretty, the well-dressed, the socially adept, the intelligent, the educated—what’s on the inside? What’s the state of their hearts?
Outsides don’t really matter to God. Status doesn’t really matter to God. He loves all and works through all equally. Because it’s the heart that matters most. God uses poor and rich, pretty and no-so-pretty, well-dressed and shabby, socially smart and relationally awkward, intelligent and dull, educated and uneducated. It makes no difference to God. He only needs willing hearts and actually, God is big enough and powerful enough to work through and around even those without willing hearts! Check out the Bible for some interesting biographies of evil men used to fulfill God’s plans!
In the past seven days, I’ve been challenged to look beneath the surface, past the covers of more than just an old book. The first challenge came with house guests.
A young woman I’ve been mentoring for four years since high school came to visit last week from out-of-state and she brought her new boyfriend. She stayed upstairs in our loft. He stayed in our overflow accommodations, our deluxe travel trailer sitting in our driveway.
About five minutes after meeting this young man for the first time, my stress levels starting rising. On the outside he’s a tall, muscular Marine, quite handsome at that. But I had never met a more introverted, shy person!
At first, my inquisitive nature caused me to start asking questions like I normally do in an attempt to get to know another and make a connection. I think I’m pretty good at drawing people out, given my professional training and my intuitive, effusive personality. Well, this guy was worse than a box turtle with shell flap crazy-glued shut. I couldn’t open him up no matter how I tried.
I got nervous! What was I going to do with this creature for a whole week in our home? My stomach started churning.
So what did I do?
I was really mature! I avoided him. If he was in the room, I found I suddenly needed to do something somewhere else, anywhere else. I stopped asking questions except for social niceties like, “How did you sleep?” or “Can I get you anything?”
Pretty quickly, I thought he was anti-social and scary. I started worrying about this young lady and her choice of a boyfriend. They are planning marriage! She assured me he was different with her. That worried me too. What if he was some pathological leech? I couldn’t READ this guy and reading people is my specialty! I saw my expertise challenged and I didn’t like it—not one little bit! (I can’t even believe I reveal my vulnerable turtle flesh on electronic paper like this for all to read!)
So, I did what any mature woman would do. I went to the girlfriend instead of the boyfriend, breaking all my conflict-resolution rules, and shared my angst. I told her my concerns. She assured me he was a great guy, just shy. And then she went and told him what I said! I was mortified!
Where is my turtle shell??!! I’m over-exposed!!!!!
And then—he texted her—from inside our house! And he texted that he wanted to talk with me!
YIKES! I’m DOOMED! The cats have my tongue and they’re in the BARN! What am I going to SAY? My stomach floor just fell out! Pardon me while I go throw up!
So, being the mature 25 year-old that he is, and me being the scared sick wimp that I was, we sat and had a chat that he initiated. He apologized for appearing anti-social and explained that he has some social anxiety he’s working on. He told me about two traumatic periods in his life and how he had once been more outgoing but how these two experiences caused him to lose some ability to trust others. Consequently, he has become reluctant to open up. But somehow, he has been able to do so with certain people and he hoped to get better with me and my family because we are so important to his girlfriend. And, besides, he likes us a lot. And really, he said, he deeply cares about others. Then He shared his deep faith in God and I knew he was the real deal.
So I sat feeling small, which is good. Sometimes it’s very good for the puffed proud to have conscience pricked.
I cried when he talked even a bit about the combat he experienced in Afghanistan. Soldiers and their stories do that to me. I worked as a clinical psychology intern for a VA Hospital in a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder unit and was horrified and grieved to hear what some soldiers experience—how they have to learn to live with invisible wounds when back home.
So, long story short, when I took the time to listen and he took the time to tell, my view of him changed. I fell in love with a sensitive young man with a tender, good heart trying to find his way. When I took the time to look beneath the surface looks and behaviors, my perspective changed completely.
And then I experienced that what works for books and people, also works with animals . . .
My Arabian-Paint mare has been short in her stride lately so I had the vet come to assess yesterday. The vet stressed my mare’s hind leg joints purposely and had her trot off to determine the problem. Then she took x-rays. As suspected, the films showed arthritis with bone spurs. Looking healthy and beautiful on the outside, my sweet mare was pained on the inside. Her refusal to open up and extend her trot had nothing to do with unwillingness. She was hurting. Now that we know the cause of her pain, we are treating her properly. Soon, she’ll feel better and we’ll enjoy our rides together once more. See? Just like people. Pain is often the internal cause of external problems. Proper treatment creates satisfying relationship.
Moral of these stories? Set assumptions aside. Take the time to look beneath the surface—to listen and learn. And remember that all life is valuable. All life, no matter how different, no matter how unlovely we think, is worthy of love because God loves all.
Once again, I’m writing what I most need to learn. Anyone else?
Jesus said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” John 7:24 (ESV)