What Do You See?

I spent some time with a dear friend, an old professor of mine, a couple weeks ago. This person has seen me through a lot of the darker parts of the last few years, as well as some of the most joyful. Consistently, though, I have witnessed him see the absolute best in people. Not in the sense that he falsely perceives perfection in the people around him, nor blindly gives the benefit of the doubt to people who are actually taking advantage of that grace. Instead, he notices gifts and strengths and goodness in people and he calls that out in them. In other words, he empowers.

As I drove away from our meeting, I was smiling like a fool and I wasn’t sure why (You know when you’re smiling, even though there’s no joke and no one to smile at?). As I tried to assess where this spontaneous beamer was coming from, I realized I felt deeply empowered. It felt slightly ridiculous and dangerously close to a pride I’ve always been told to run away from, but I was literally driving down Ash Street thinking, ‘I am capable. I have gifts. I am worth so much!’ with tears welling up in my eyes. I hated writing that last line. It makes me feel weak and dumb to write it, because it’s a relatively obvious thing that we don’t say to each other very often because we assume everyone already believes it. However, most of the people I know don’t believe this. And the reason I was beaming like a kid on Christmas morning was because I hadn’t believed that in a tangible way for a long time.

To be honest, the week between that interaction and the moment I wrote it down was a dreary one. For reasons that do make sense, and for reasons I cannot seem to define, solitude felt toxic and a number of interactions with people had me flurrying out the door in hopes of escaping impending anxiety.  So, when I was sitting in book group a few nights later and the topic of being beloved by God came up, I wondered, even if I believe in God’s love on a theological level, how on earth I can translate that into my actual life when I am dwelling in the depths?  A few different people responded, one of whom said it was more of a momentary thing, rather than a constant reality, that you taste and must remember.

I felt my foolishly large smile threaten to resurface in that moment, as I realized that is exactly what the meeting with my professor had been. A moment when I felt beloved and joyful because of it, not simply because someone was generously kind to me, but because that person dared to see the goodness in me that God himself put there and declared good.

We constantly forget how powerful we are in the lives of those around us. We spend such an extreme amount of time criticizing others, gossiping about them to justify ourselves, labeling one another quite unhelpfully, competing with each other. I was reading John 2 recently, the part where Jesus finds people selling merchandise in the temple and exclaims, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” I sat imagining if Jesus might exclaim, “How dare you turn my Father’s love into a secret!” if he came upon our—Christian or otherwise—relationships and communities sometimes.

I say none of this to condemn the way we love. Love is messy and difficult to execute and easy to mess up and hard to digest. But I say all of this to remind us of the power we hold—both to put a smile on another’s face, and sometimes to convince them—even momentarily—that they are beloved.

Someone once told me that if every time you walked into a room full of people you assumed they are not doing very well, you would be right most of the time. People are broken and suffering and lost in ways that are not obvious but are deeply restrictive in their lives.  But those very same people hold profound goodness that they perhaps have not been made aware of. 

I hope that we can be a people who reflect back at others their inherent goodness. People who notice each other and empower each other because the Father’s love is not a secret and does not have to be an abstract concept.