Ever have this experience? You meet someone in a store, a restaurant, or out on the street. You know that you know them, but can’t quite place them or recall their name. Then you suddenly realize that it’s the receptionist for a company you often visit, or the clerk at the convenience store where you buy coffee, or a teacher from a few years ago. We knew that knew them, but because they were not in their normal setting or dressed as we are used to seeing them we struggle to place them. It’s almost as if life is paused for others when we are not around. Stopped in a freeze frame like a paused TV show. Of course, it isn’t but, we often perceive it that way.
This tendency spills over into other avenues. In a similar way, there is an assumption that people have no past, that they have always been as we see them now. More than once, a person has begun to grace our church, saw how “together” someone seems, and lamented about their own situation. The irony is that the “together” person had a very similar struggle. In the new person’s view, the “together” person has always been that way because that is all the new person has ever known of them. Somehow a basic assumption is created that says “what I see now is the way things have always been.”
There is a second form of this phenomenon that fails to see forward into the realm of possibility. In a sense, it is a kind of judgment. The assumption being that a person cannot or will not change. Say that in your travels there is a biker pulling into the gas pump next to yours. His coming is announced with overly loud drag pipes that make your ears ring. His long beard, long hair, and leathers declare he belongs to the tribe of Harley-Davidson, subsect Hell’s Angels. His persona is set. He’s made his choices, and our minds have accepted his role. Nothing will change. We may never see him again, but for us, he will be forever the same. It’s as if we are saying, “what I see now is the way things will always be.”
Those split-second decisions keep us from experiencing much of God’s grace. Consider the many interactions Jesus had in the Gospels. How many folks were set into a particular part before Jesus changed them with a simple “follow me”, a quiet conversation, or an earth-shattering turn of events? Consider Matthew, hated and rejected by his peers because of his occupation. Jesus did not only see Matthew as he was but how he could be. Consider the woman at the well, the Gadarene demoniac, Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, and Nicodemus, to name a few. As Christ’s ambassadors, we are to be on the same mission. To see life and people in reality and possibility. To care that the convenience store clerk has a life and all of the issues and problems that come with it. To see the biker in a different light; to care about his future and see the possibilities. Who knows, perhaps God is ready to knock the biker from his iron horse like He did Saul on the Damascus Road.