Last night a group of strangers taught me a valuable lesson. I went to a community meeting as part of my counselling training and due to the confidentiality and out respect for the people I met, I won’t divulge what meeting it was or where. I walked into this meeting with expectations of what I would encounter and they types of people I would meet. I was partially right in my assessment but also way off the mark.
I walked into this meeting blind, not knowing whether or not they would allow me to sit and an unsure of how people would respond to me wanting to observe their meeting. Would they think I was judging them? Would they ignore me? Would they think I was looking at them as subjects that I wanted to inspect? All these thoughts ran through my mind as I walked up to the building, and all of them flew out the window as people greeted me as if I was a long-term member. Hand shakes, smiles, and welcomes, all by a group of strangers that had no idea who I was. When I explained to them why I was there, they didn’t bat an eyelid, just smiled and introduced me to the next person that walked in. Everyone treated me like I belonged, which was the most humbling thing because there isn’t many people that would welcome a complete stranger that wants to come and listen to them share their life story.
I was asked to not speak throughout, which I expected and was more than fine with, so I just sat back and listened to people share their stories. Within a few minutes of the meeting starting I could feel my heart pounding in my chest faster as I listened to this man share his story; my heart was breaking listening to him and I felt my eyes well up with tears, so I put my head down and just started at the floor while listening, all the while wanting to walk up to this man and just hug him. I wanted to do that with every single person there. None of them were sharing to get pity, they were sharing their story so they could cleanse themselves, so they could help and encourage others, and so they could remind themselves of how far they have come. Listening to the stories these people shared gave me perspective on a few things; firstly that I am blessed with the life I have, trials and all. Secondly, where there is hope, there is life. Without hope, what’s the point of going on? What’s the point of doing life if you have no hope that there will be a good ending? My hope is in Jesus, and that’s what makes my life easier to endure when things get rough. And thirdly, we as a society, myself included, label people way to easily based on their circumstances.
We give people titles, whether it be officer, addict, troublemaker, widow, so on. Some titles are valid and some are not. Some titles are respectful, and some are not. And just because someone has gotten themselves into a situation, that shouldn’t define them. When we constantly refer to someone by title we, to a degree, disassociate ourselves from him or her as a person, and it sort of reflects that we don’t know them as a person. When I introduce people to anyone from my pastoral team at church, it’s always title and name, never just the title of Pastor because I know them and their title of pastor is only a part of who they are; they are still a person. They are someone I love and respect. But we so quickly do that with other people and it reminded me again that I desperately don’t want to be that person. I want to look beyond circumstances and see the heart. There are so many people that need help and there are so many of us that can help. But before we can start, we need to see people for who they are: a human worthy of being loved and treated with respect. Yes, people can be silly and mean and evil; I know that and have seen it and experienced it first hand. But it’s not my place to judge and condemn. I have no right to do that. My role should be to love others and let them know that they are worthy to be loved and treated with respect. Last night a group of strangers not only taught me a valuable lesson; they also changed my heart and made me want to be a better person.