This used to happen to me all the time. Especially as a teenage girl and a young adult. I would assume that whatever people told me, or how they acted in front of me, was who they were. Why would I question what they were showing me? Why would they lie or pretend to be something they're not? That made no sense to me. Because of my naivete, I was fooled and hurt many times, and even worse ... I dismissed certain people because I thought I had them 'all figured out.' What arrogance! Now, there are some who wear their emotions and heart on their sleeve - not a lot of investigation needs to be done to discover the truth of who they are. It is right there for all the world to see. But for most? Well, most of us wear a mask to cover up the parts that we do not want others to see. Some wear simple, thin masks that can be easily removed, while others wear masks of such thickness that they appear to be permanently glued to their faces. Either way - we have to learn to drop the mask ... when it is safe and when we can trust the person who will be looking right at us ... but we have to be willing to remove it - and - we have to be willing to help others remove theirs.
These are very scary words for most people. Even believers. We are more concerned about what others think of us than what the Lord is thinking of us. We exhaust ourselves trying to cover up our weaknesses, hide our sin, divert attention away from us, and keep up the appearance of godliness, when we should be keeping our eyes locked on the face of the Father, following wherever He leads us, and letting Him peel away our pride layer by layer so we might be used for His purposes rather than worrying about our own agenda.
A few weeks ago I was standing in a large crowd of people. I knew all of them at different levels, some intimately and some just by name. As I stood there watching my children and not really thinking about anything, I was drawn into a conversation between two women that blew me away. One woman I know very well because we have a long history together. The other woman, who was sharing personal details about her life, is one I do not know personally, but have 'pieced together' through my own observations from a distance. I was impressed with her willingness to be so open with a virtual stranger, and appreciated that she trusted me to listen. But what kept running through my mind was, "Oh my word! How in the WORLD did I not know all of this?" And I started replaying the things I had seen and heard myself to see if it all added up.
Almost two decades ago I read a book that challenged me with the thought: Seek to Understand. Is someone screaming at you? Irritable? Rude? Being passive aggressive for no reason? If so, look for the WHY. Do not take it at face value. Maybe she just had a huge fight with her husband. Maybe her daughter is sick. Maybe he just found out he is losing his job. In other words, "Do not take everything personally! Everything is not about YOU!" It was one of the best lessons I ever learned as an adult, and as a woman. Just because I am the one standing there at the time does not mean it is about me. Look PAST what you see and seek to understand the bigger picture. And if necessary - ASK!
The reason I was blown away by the conversation between the two women was this: Though my observations were accurate, and the judgments I made were true, I did not know the back story. I did not know they WHY. It did not change anything, but it explained everything.
In one of my favorite movies, North & South, there is a great line about this very thing. A brother and sister are talking about someone the sister knows very well and whom the brother has never met.
Frederick: What a scowl that man has……. A very disagreeable fellow, I’m sure.Margaret: [looking sorrowful] As with most men, something has happened to make him scowl, Fred. Don’t judge him harshly.