Have you ever known a woman in your neighborhood, family, or church that just seems completely perfect? She’s gorgeous, an excellent wife and mother, and everyone just seems to adore her. Because of these things, you can’t help but envy her a little bit. I have noticed myself in this position many times, and I have realized that typically, I seem to do one of two things: either I become her friend, or I give in to the temptation to resent her.
That’s a rather bold confession for me to make, but it’s the sad truth. Plus, I have realized a well-kept little secret: many, many women do this. Perhaps men do it as well. We push people we know into categories. Pretty soon after we meet them, we decide they are either someone we like or someone we don’t; someone we think is worth getting to know, or someone that isn’t. If we decide it’s not worth it, we label them as an “outsider.” Quite frankly, I believe that the difference between those we see as friends and those we see as outsiders (or “non-friends”) is a matter of choice.
So… what’s the difference? Why do we choose some of these people to be our friends, and why do we build walls up against others? I think the easy-to-spot “duh!” reason that holds the most weight is that it’s far easier to befriend people who we think are like us or act like we do.
A great example of this concept can be found in any test group of young mothers. Having new little ones and hours of pregnancy-induced worry research under our belts, we all seem to think we are right in the ways that we parent. And technically we are—we are doing what’s right for us and our families. Sometimes it’s hard for us to wrap our heads around the concept that what could be right for us isn’t right for someone else. Therefore, if there is a woman who seems great and we find out that she parents the same way we do, then boom! Best friends. But, if she does things differently we quickly begin to see her as an outsider. Really, other people become outsiders to us any time we purposely choose not to draw closer to them because they are a little (or a lot) different than us.
Of course it’s easy to get along with people who think the same way as we do, and obviously that’s what is so fun about our natural friend groups. I’m not saying we need to constantly shake up those relationships and only seek after those that are different than us. But really, when you stop and consider your life, your friends, and those you are closest with, are these people helping you grow and stretch in your opinions and view of the world? Or are you patting each other on the backs, confirming that you are the only correct group and everyone else is sadly misinformed? Are there people that you purposefully push away because you don’t believe there could possibly be a way for you to connect?
We all do this, and perhaps myself most of all. It’s WAY easier to avoid those we disagree with and befriend those who agree with our perspective. But I am now realizing that I’ve missed out on too many relationships that could have been rich and meaningful because I took the easy way out. Where is the challenge in that? Where is the real, genuine, Christ-like love that helps us overcome differences and befriend one another despite our diversity?
There is actually a story in the bible about this. You may have heard of it. :) I believe it’s often referred to as the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you can’t remember it, I’ll summarize it quickly. (You can find the full story in Luke chapter 10).
There were two different groups of people who did not like each other, the Levites and Samaritans. One day, a Levite man was beaten and robbed and left on the side of the road to die. A priest and a fellow Levite saw him and continued on their way, leaving him without help. However, a Samaritan saw this broken and bruised Levite (an outsider), and immediately did all he could to take care of him. He took care of his wounds and took him to an Inn. The Samaritan even paid for him to stay there and receive care when he had to leave. He did not let the difference in their culture, blood, and points of view stop him from taking care of someone who simply needed rescued.
Considering this well-known parable this time around pricks my heart in a whole new way. I think it’s safe to say that most of us would reach out and help someone we saw lying on the road dying. But what would we do if this type of situation came to us on a much smaller scale? What if, instead of needing physical help, an “outsider” simply needed a friend? Suppose someone you didn’t agree with politically was at the point of life-or-death self-esteem issues, loneliness, or spiritual pain. What if the mother down the street you have judged for parenting differently than you is slowly crumbling on the inside because of personal struggles and needs friendship, not judgement? President Henry B. Eyring once quoted a leader he had growing up who said “When you meet someone, treat them as if they were in serious trouble, and you will be right more than half the time.” Thinking of the parable of the Good Samaritan in this ways devastates me, because I have too often been the priest and Levite who simply walked on by.
When we reach the end of our time on this earth and look back on our lives, will we be proud of who we are? Did we only offer our talents and time to those that we liked, and shrunk at any opportunity that came to take care of someone different than us?
Wow. Writing this post has caused some serious self-reflection, and has taught me that I have a lot of work to do within myself. I quickly need to stop the wall building and categorizing that I have become shamefully good at.
This life can be too hard and too painful to choose only a small select few to help us through tough times. And we can learn so much from the success of others when we celebrate the joyous times together.
We need each other, and honestly all of those differences, both tiny and huge, are what make us unique and beautiful to our Heavenly Father. If our goal is to be more like Him while on this earth, then I believe we need to learn to love and appreciate those differences, and stop letting them get in our way.