The Beauty in Another
The house was swelling with song and the windows were sweating from the collision of packed bodies in a small brownstone space against the stark winter air. I didn’t think we were going to a house party, I thought, my dander already up.
We entered to the sounds of well-known worship — translated through what sounded like a more “local” band. The furniture had been moved to accommodate the standing guests and the musicians’ equipment. This was a cross between a concert and a modern-day church service. Some watched and others participated, but the mood was generally festive. Nate and I exchanged looks that held questions. We attempted to take one another’s temperature through an eyebrow raise and a discreet turn of the mouth.
That’s when I saw her.
She was in her late forties or fifties, and her mind seemed lost in a demonstration of bodily declarations that I’d not really known outside of those rock concerts I attended in high school. She had little awareness of her surroundings; or if she did I couldn’t tell. She was all hands and body sways and song. I judged her. I speculated. This couldn’t be real. Who is her audience?
As quickly as the thought entered my mind, another trumped it: you don’t know what she’s been through.
Though I couldn’t determine the source, it was enough to cause me to pause. At that point, I’d had enough familiarity with my own internal judgments to know very few (if any) produced fruit.
And, after all, we’d come out of curiosity, not scorn. This scene was not our scene and these people, somewhat foreign. They practiced a brand of christianity different than the one we’d known.
But we weren’t here to hunt heresy, we were asking Him where He was moving in places that we didn’t know. So, I decided to pray for this woman in effort to win over this subterranean thread of judgment that was coloring my night.
And my prayer continued intermittently throughout the evening; for some reason I couldn’t take my eyes off this woman. As I asked for His heart for her — something I’d only recently been practicing, as an effort to to swim upstream against the judgment in which our flesh likes to cloak itself — this thought came: She’s like Mary.
It came to me as my own thought, but I suspected it wasn’t my own. After all, I’d not seen her actions in a favorable light and the woman who gave her alabaster livelihood for a burial oil for that God-Man was just — at that time — beginning to win my affection.
I felt a little nudge to tell her. It was a restitution for my judging heart — this day, judgment would not win.
I pushed past the concern that my sharing this piece of information might validate her attention-seeking behavior (which I couldn’t condone – again, another one of judgement’s seeds, that I was somehow responsible for evaluating her), and I approached her where she now lingered in the back of the room.
“As I prayed for you I saw you like Mary,” I said awkwardly above the noise, not exactly looking her in the eye. I was not fluent in the language of this environment. She looked away, and then back at me, and then she said nearly the same phrase I’d heard hours earlier:
“You don’t know what I’ve been through.”
Now, without hesitation: “In the past 17 months I’ve lost both my son and my husband. They both died. Worshiping Him is the only place that I can find joy.”
I was silenced, taught a lesson in the way that only a face-to-face story can teach. And I think I came that night for this one interaction.
Nearly ten years later and I am still taking it in. His heart for this woman plunged to deeper depths than my instantaneous judgment (on one sliver of her behavior) could ever touch.
Now … that story was loud, obvious. Those judgments, His word-phrase dropped into my spirit, her response, that night. But what about those dozens of times during my day I’m tempted to stamp my judgments on the ones I love most? What about the allure of hopping on to the toxic storyline that another is already fighting, by sowing our thoughts into that thread? What about choosing to see the gaps instead of all the ways that He is filling their holes with Himself?
Thousands of little moments, in the form of thoughts, are what make up a man or a woman. And many of those thoughts aren’t in reference to how we see ourselves, or how we see Him, alone — they are in how we see Him … in another.
Will we see — not just ourselves, but another — through the lens of His forever-ongoing restoration? Will we walk right on past the allure to slay with our mind or with tongue and, instead, find the places that have His marks? Will we consider others better than ourselves? Not even same, but better.
Even the ones that hurt us.
(Especially the ones that hurt us.)
The lens through which we see others reveals the status of our own hearts. Because, really, a mind so quick to judge — to search another and find their foot faults — is a reflection of a heart that expects that same kind of scrutiny from Him. When my mind goes there, when I’ve scanned her surface for a flaw and made mental note, He’s exposing something about me.
He’s filled the world with stories of redemption and, that night, I almost missed a big one. The women I labeled overly demonstrative became my modern-day Mary of Bethany, choosing to worship in unlikely times, her hands holding remnants of a life spilled out on one God-Man.
He told me she was like Mary for me, not for her.
I want to see how He sees. I want to think how He thinks. I want to wear the mind He gave me, not just for me but for every person I brush up against. And when I start to receive His thoughts toward another, overlaid by His Word, the eyes of kindness that He pours out over a myriad of faults become the eyes I expect to be watching me.
Making it a habit: I have no choice but to submit this part of my mind to His help or it will subtly overtake me. To consider another better than myself is not yet an unconscious rhythm. So I practice. For every unkind thought, inhaled, I replace it with a question and a prayer. Lord, how do you see them? and then a prayer for Him to continue to bless, in them, where He’s already sowing beauty.
One thought at a time, He is moving my mind from opponent to participant.
Because I want to participate in His glory in another.
And a note: Photos compliments of Mandie Joy. This girl has also set me up on instagram. Friends, it took several sittings for me to know exactly what that means and I still don’t quite get it …except, that you can now find updates and useful graphics on Instagram @everybitterthingissweet. Next week we’ll roll out S-T-R-E-N-G-T-H-E-N images — a letter per day, how cool! Mandie keeps me in the 21st century.