Written by Vanessa R., United Kingdom
Some months ago, I noticed that an acquaintance had become distant and cold towards me. When I asked about it, the person told me that it was because I had overreacted about something during our last exchange. I understood their perspective and apologised, but it became clear that a point of no return had been reached for them.
Of course, the response was their decision to make, and I knew that healthy boundaries were necessary for this relationship. But looking back, I had found it difficult to react differently in that context. From discussing it with my counsellor, I learnt that my overreaction had, in part, come from a place of pain and unresolved childhood trauma. Even though the realisation made the rejection even more painful, in a way it also granted me some peace. Instead of feeling overwhelmed with guilt and shame, I began to see my own need for healing.
We all long to be seen, understood, and accepted for who we are. We all need people who would lovingly confront us when needed, but also try to talk to us first, to understand where we come from. I remember my mentor during my first year at work, who once said that “it is nice to be known”. And it is indeed, but beyond that, and as he so wonderfully demonstrated, it is nice to be fully known and still loved.
A love that goes beyond first impressions
For Christians, the love that God calls us to extend to others is a love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13.7). This is the love that we all long to receive, but one I must admit that I am not as prompt to offer. It is the kind of love that requires me to pause and think, to consider where the other person is coming from. And unless I make a conscious effort, I often find myself being dismissive, rushing to move on to the next thing.
My friend recently told me about a former neighbour of hers who was known to be unpleasant. Once, while taking the bins out, she ran into him, and he rudely reprimanded her for not putting them in a specific place. Instead of reacting immediately based on the man’s reputation, she remained calm and apologised about it. Her peaceful and unprejudiced approach took him aback, and he ended up being quite open and started chatting with her. Through their conversation, she saw how he was a good person who had been hurt by others. His defensive attitude was a way of protecting himself from being hurt.
I wish more of us were like my friend, but to be honest, don’t we all tend to judge others based on appearance and place them—and subsequently leave them—into boxes that fit our own narratives of who they are?
When God made me reconsider
Even though this time I was on the receiving end of such rejection, I know that I have also done my share of rejection by deciding quickly to keep someone at bay, either because of something they had done, or because of who I perceived them to be. There were times where God had to force me to take a second look and see that there was more to the picture than what I had thought.
A few years ago, I went on a mission trip with a few members from our church. During our induction weekend, without even realising it, someone said something that annoyed me. It was not anything bad, but because it had annoyed me, I decided that that person was not someone I would get on with, and whom I should just conveniently ignore.
But God had other plans, of course. Through our interactions over the next few weeks, I started to realise that what had annoyed me at first stemmed from a kind and generous heart that led to genuine attempts to be sincere and loving toward others. This person became a dear friend that I very much enjoy spending time with today. Had I stuck to my initial impression, I would have missed out on a beautiful friendship.
Three things to keep in mind
One of my favourite verses in the Bible is 1 Samuel 16:7: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It is both comforting and challenging to know that God sees us for who we truly are—comforting, because we are fully known and loved by the God of the universe; challenging, because this compels us to reconsider how we act toward others.
My prayer through these realisations is that God will help me every day to be a person who sees beyond others’ rough appearances, and to love them in a way that reflects Christ—with grace, compassion and understanding. To do so, I try to keep these three things in mind:
- Give them the benefit of the doubt. Everyone has their own situation that they’re dealing with, and that can affect how they respond or react to me. Remembering this gives me a bit of distance from their attitudes and reactions.
- Ask before I assume. One of my favourite verses is in Matthew 18:15, which describes how we can confront one another. Although confrontation is not pleasant, I have found that most of the time, when I get the courage to tell someone about an attitude or action that hurt or frustrated me, their subsequent clarification or apology would help me see the situation in a different light. I’m also prompted to look at my own sinful thoughts and attitudes.
- Forgive, just as we’ve been forgiven (Colossians 3:13). Forgiveness isn’t only for the major sins committed against us, it also covers the small grievances. Part of forgiving is also learning to let go and not always address every single issue, remembering that love covers over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
I pray that through the unconditional and all-accepting love I receive from Him each day, I will learn to love others. Instead of producing pain in their lives, I want to learn to participate in their healing.
May this be true for all of us.