My earliest memory of someone different.
I Was Eight
I think it was polio. My 3rd grade class had a kid who walked with canes. They were a substitute for his useless legs that drug along behind. He was laughed at, made fun of, and singled out for exclusion.
He was different.
I didn’t like the teasing. I was strong enough to stand up for him, but too weak for friendship. Thus, began a life-long challenge of how to act towards those who were different.
Kids can be so mean to each other. Adults can be worse.
So It Started
My parents taught me kindness. To respect others. But as I grew, my need for acceptance forced me to fit in, to not stand out, to side with the group, even if it was wrong. A teenager’s greatest fear is castigation for being different.
Difference is the enemy of acceptance and insecurity can quickly betray good parenting.
- We learn to fear; we weren’t born with it.
- We learn to avoid those not like us.
- It’s about being cautious, it’s for our good.
- Is it?
We don’t like discomfort.
- The Priest and Levite walked past the injured man.
- Eye contact is avoided with those on the corners.
- The homeless are dismissed as lazy and irresponsible.
- People of certain ethnicity are ignored.
- The Pharisees hissed at the poor and the broken.
Here is one of the many ways in which Jesus is not like me: He loved anyone, he extended friendship to everyone, and recognized their worth regardless of their moral, economic, or religious characteristics.
But there’s more. Jesus didn’t bury his holiness to blend in. He didn’t hide his light to gain acceptance. He didn’t need it, he didn’t seek it. Grasp this:
His interest wasn’t in being accepted, but in offering it.
A Friend of Sinners
He befriended prostitutes, adulterers, the demon possessed, and the sick, diseased, and the lepers. To his detractors, such people were to be ignored, barred from Temple, excluded from synagogue, and shunned from fellowship.
They despised the different.
Jesus talked with people about their sins without them feeling like their sins were more important than their souls.
He never viewed them as lesser people, never devalued their worth. Their humanity was always more important to him than their failings.
Jesus didn’t see them as different.
Some Closing Thoughts
- Our kids learn by watching us: good and bad. What are we teaching them?
- We seek acceptance, so we fit and blend in.
- We fear being different and so we fear those who are different.
- Can we change from seeking acceptance to being people who offer it?
- Can we teach that to our kids?
I’ve spent much of my life devaluing others due to their sins, life-style choices, and their differences. I’ve learned to view them as lesser people, does it justify my aversions?
But by God’s grace, I’ve changed some and have grown some in the past few years.
In Part 3, I will share some of my journey of learning to Love the Different.