You don’t know me. We’ve never met but living in a small town, we probably know some of the same people because that’s small town life. Everyone knows everyone else. Except, I don’t know you either.
Much to my chagrin, I didn’t even notice you. If I’d noticed you first, I might’ve seen the tendrils of hair escaping your ponytail after a long day at work. Or the way you kept shifting your weight from one tired foot to the other. I might’ve seen the lack of energy as you slid our groceries across the scanner.
But, the only thing I noticed were your words. “Wow, your kids sure are dirty, aren’t they?”
My hand froze mid-air, the jug of milk hovering over the conveyor belt. I glanced at my kids to see if they’d heard. They didn’t miss a beat as they continued loading the loaf of bread and fruit out of the cart. Perhaps they didn’t hear.
A smear of dirt across my oldest son’s forehead matched his mud-stained shirt. Drops of earlier mud splattered now clung to his calves. A clump of mud sat precariously across my tow-headed son’s hair threatening to fall off and land on the bunch of bananas he held.
Stunned, I felt ashamed for half a second before looking back at her. Maybe I should’ve wiped them down for a minute before rushing into the store to grab a few things for supper.
But maybe I’d misunderstood. Surely it was an innocent observation. Maybe she didn’t realize her tone came across as condescending and disgusted.
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“Your kids,” she answered, eyebrows raised. “They’re really dirty.”
I paused a moment, considering my reply. “Well,” I slowly said, “We just came from the farm…”
She gave a half-nod like she only half-understood. Quietly, we paid for our groceries and slipped out, dirty kids and all.
For days, my mind refused to release her words. Not because I harbored any irritation toward her, but because I’m no different.
A Different Perspective
How many times do I judge someone by their appearance? How many times do I look at the man or woman holding a sign near the side of the road asking for food or money and wonder why they aren’t working? I don’t know their circumstances, yet I make assumptions I know nothing about. What about the mom ignoring her screaming child in the store? I think, “If that were my child, I’d __________.” But maybe they just came home from getting immunizations or they need to pick up a prescription for a sick family member. All I think is a good swat on the bottom would fix that.
I don’t know. Yet, I assume. Don’t we all make judgments on assumptions when we would do well to focus inward?
Have you been there? Have you too made judgments on assumptions when we would do well to focus inward?
A paradigm shift might lead us to laud that mother for bringing her child into the store, crankiness and all, instead of leaving them in a hot car. That’s a good mom right there.
Perhaps the man sitting on the side of the road just lost his home, his family, and his job. Maybe in between jobs, he’s humiliated by resorting to begging. Maybe he will use the money to drink with, but maybe not.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:40
It’s Our Turn to Make a Difference
Regardless of someone else’s circumstances, a simple change of perspective can leave a lasting impression. Offering to help the mom with the cranky toddler or dropping off a bag of hot food to the begging man not only demonstrates the love of Christ to them, but it models compassion to our own family and others watching.
The next time we’re ready to rush to assumptions based only on appearances, let’s stop. Instead of brash thoughts or comments, let’s offer compassion, love, and a helping hand. A simple act of kindness, forgiveness, and love leave a lasting impact for the kingdom of God. Let’s make a difference today.