The other day I walked past one of the third grade classrooms and just as I passed by I heard the teacher say, “I give money to causes, I go to church, I’m a good person, so I get to go to heaven.” Now if I just heard her say those words and knew nothing else about her I would think, This poor woman has no idea what salvation is! She should learn a thing or two before they let her teach at a Christian school!
But because I know this woman I know, without a doubt, that she was being facetious, portraying an example of a common thought process many have. I know that she knows the gospel message, that she doesn’t believe that being a good person gets you into heaven (that in fact she would say there is no such thing as a good person) and that she is one of the most qualified people I know to do her job of teaching third grade at Las Palmas. It’s all about context, baby.
I am a decisive person. I know what I like, what I don’t like, what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. Because I am so decisive, I often decide right away whether or not I like, trust, or respect a person. Which is wholly unfair. When I make a snap judgment about someone I am completely ignoring their context.
Now, I believe there is something to be said about a gut feeling. There is value, I believe, in “hitting it off.” Sometimes you know right away someone is going to be very important in your life, that you’re going to get along great, that you want to know more about this person. One of my very best friends is a great gal named Rebecca. Almost four years ago (four years?!) Rebecca and I met when we worked together for one week in Queens, New York. One week. We were in the same city for one week and that was all it took for me to know that I wanted to be her friend long term.
Almost two years ago I was visiting a friend in Louisville who introduced me to one of his friends, another great gal named Tamara, and after just two days I knew I wanted her in my life. So the following year I took her up on her offer to visit and went and stayed at her house, months after the mutual friend who introduced us had moved half way across the country.
So yes, there is something to be sad about that gut feeling. But, on the other hand, if I’m not having that gut reaction “we are going to be friends” feeling, I might be saying, “Nah, no thanks,” and completely dismissing someone, who is probably also a great gal, from my life. Which is not only unfair to them (because I’m a delight – just kidding, because judging is awful!), but unfair to me because I am missing out on whatever that person has to teach me. Because everyone has something to teach everyone.
Sometimes I meet a person and after a conversation or two decide, “Well, we are just not going to agree on things, which is fine, but I’m just going to have to bear that in mind.” And while part of that might be true, that we might not agree on things like what women can and cannot do in the church or whether or not it’s cool for Christians to drink alcohol or cuss, that sweeping statement of judgement, that snap decision, means that my ears and my heart are from that point on closed off to that person because I just assume we are going to disagree and so there’s no point in engaging.
But it’s all about context, baby! The Lord (and His people) have been teaching me again and again for years the importance of listening. Just listening. Without judgment or preconceived notions or waiting for my turn to speak. It is in that listening that I learn context – why someone believes what they do, why they react in whatever way to this or that, why they are jaded, why they disagree, why they aren’t just like me… It’s all about that context.