I found this quote on Pinterest one time that said,
“Stop for just one second. Think about all the people you’ve secretly had a crush on. All the people you’ve found attractive, but never said anything to. Every stranger you’ve temporarily fallen in love with on public transportation. All the people you’ve dreamt of and thought of in the early mornings. And now take a moment to realize that you have been this person for so many people … and you have no idea.”
This quote struck a chord with me because I am endlessly fascinated by people-watching when I go places – especially when I’m in airports. I love observing people’s clothes, their choice of entertainment and food, their interactions with others. I’m always wondering about and imagining the secret, inner lives of all the people around me.
Recently I was in several airports on a trip back East, and as I sat observing all the people around me, I considered the beauty of humanity – how we all have a rich diversity of our private lives that none of us know about, yet which makes us all so similar. We all have someone we love, someone we’re going to visit or going home to; we all have goals we want to accomplish, heartbreaks we don’t speak of, and stories we could tell about our lives.
And it’s when we start to learn another person’s story that the walls of judgment and hatred start to crumble.
Broken People Loving Broken People
There is a beautiful picture book by Jacqueline Woodson called Each Kindness, and in it, a new girl comes to school who is a little on the shabby side. The main character of the book and her friends snub her because she’s poor, and one day when the new girl asks them to play jacks with her, they say no and go off to whisper about her. After that, the new girl jumps rope by herself around the playground. Eventually the little girl leaves the school, and the main character is so stricken with guilt by the kindness she withheld from the new girl.
Every time I prepared to read that book to my class, I teared up when I read it because I know all too well what it’s like to be the new girl quietly sitting by herself and desperately hoping for a friend. It hurts me to the core when I see my own students going through the same pain, and I love when I see other students reaching out to them.
To this day I still have moments of feeling awkward and alone – feelings of panic that rise up when I’m in a group of people I don’t know well – a desperate need to be known and loved and accepted.
And I wish we could all remember that our inner, secret lives have these double threads woven into them. One of them the rich, beautiful personality that God has designed to bring joy to the world, and the other that desperate, scared feeling of being rejected by people who can’t see that personality.
We’re all broken by sin, though, which makes our attempts at loving others often fall short. We blunder our way through trying to reach out to others – sometimes it works and sometimes we hurt them because we don’t always know the best way.
We need to give grace and have humility as we try to learn one another’s stories, knowing that the process of loving another person can be messy. It takes awhile for the inner, secret life to be revealed, and oftentimes there are parts of it that will never be shared, for it’s too sacred. But let us be okay with that and simply recognize that it exists – and that other people are most likely as broken as we are.
Curiosity is More Important than Assumptions
Our society seems obsessed with labels right now, and consequently all sorts of assumptions are made about a person simply by what they “identify” as. Liberal or conservative, right or left, Christian or atheist, gay or straight, black or white. You read the label and you automatically think you know what’s in the container.
But people are so much more complex than a five-word label. Their stories go deeper than a few tweets or posts they might make on the Internet. And we do them great harm when we assume we know what they’re like or what they think about every topic based on a few known facts about them.
Thus, we have to learn to be curious about people’s stories. We have to get comfortable with asking questions instead of making statements about them. We have to listen to them instead of painting pictures of them in our heads that may be inaccurate.
And as we listen, we will find that we are so much more alike than we are different. Some of us are more alike and some of us are more different. But at the core, we are all human beings made in the image of God. Our secret, inner lives may share some of the same desires, fears, and ridiculous childhood stories. But we’ll never know unless we start asking questions of other people and start getting to know them.
The Human Experience
This is the human experience. This is how we were created. And we’re all looking for something to connect us with one another. Something to remind us that we’re not alone and that our experiences are not insignificant. Hope is what we’re all longing for. No matter how tragic or grief-stricken our stories are, we just long for the hope that we will be redeemed and restored.
And this is why we need each other now more than ever – because people need to know they can find hope in a God who promises just such redemption and restoration. He takes all our scraps of disappointment and turns them into his beautiful mosaic of eternal hope. He created each of us with our secret, inner lives, and only he truly knows the depths of them, even the parts we can’t speak about to another soul.
So when we feel tempted to judge another person, to make assumptions about them without knowing their whole story, to hate them for their beliefs, we just need to stop for a second. We need to consider the humanity that connects us.
How maybe he lies awake at night, rehashing an experience over and over in his head that he wishes went differently.
How maybe she hums under her breath as she’s getting gas and tries to stop it at an even number.
How maybe he silently passes her every day just wishing he had the courage to say hi.
How maybe she struggles to even look at herself in the mirror because she doesn’t like what she sees.
How maybe he sings loudly along with the radio as he’s driving to work.
How maybe she likes to dance barefoot in the kitchen as she’s making dinner.
Let’s be able to share in these experiences with one another, build relationships with one another, and love each other in the midst of being human. And may it bring us back to our Creator, the one who made us delightfully quirky, ridiculously fun, and unfathomably deep. He already knows our secret places. May we honor others’ secret places as well and cherish them because of it.