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Trying On New Eyes

I wish I had Mother Teresa’s eyes. Throughout her life, she never saw the poor as just lowly people; she saw Christ Himself. She saw Him hiding behind the dirty faces and the sickly bodies. She thoroughly believed it when Jesus said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.” Knowing that she was serving her King in disguise, loving others came so natural to Mother Teresa.

Unfortunately, I do not see Jesus in the faces of the poor, or anyone else for that matter. I see everyone as idiots.

Loving people does not come easy for me. When your father walks out on you as a child, and you’re constantly bullied in school, you tend to have some major trust issues. I tried to make friends, but it rarely ever turned out the way I planned. Usually my peers would just tell me get lost; I wasn’t cool or pretty enough to be their friend. Some of the kids, however, would seem to want to be my friend, but in the end they only wanted to make a fool of me. Consequently, I’ve learned to keep a safe distance from people unless they invite me into their lives, and even then I’m still skeptical.

Working with the public hasn’t helped my attitude towards people either. I currently work at a public library, and I’ve seen quite the collection of characters. On one hand, I’ve met some of the sweetest, most lovable angels in the world. For example, this one old man who comes to the library every couple of weeks, knows all the staff members by name, and likes to tell stories about his childhood in Brooklyn. He said that since his retirement, he suddenly found himself with plenty of time on his hands. To keep himself busy, he has become an avid reader, and he says he greatly appreciates what the library does for the community. It is always a pleasure to see him.

On the other hand, I’ve also come across some of the most obnoxious, ignorant, creepy people ever, and they tend to stick out in my mind more. I’ve have people argue with me over a 15 cent fine. I’ve seen parents willingly let their children run around and make huge messes. And to top it all off, a lot of our patrons (especially teenagers) still haven’t figured out that you’re supposed to be quiet in a library.

The late comedian Bill Hicks once said, “We are a virus with shoes.” When I look around and see all the terrible things human beings are capable of—murder, oppression, destruction—I sometimes wish that God would cause a huge Old Testament-styled flood or plague to wipe away the ugliness of mankind. Yet when Jesus was on the cross, He never said, “Wait until my father hears about this.” He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” Jesus saw that all people, regardless of background or attitude, were in the same fix. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 TNIV). We’re all thrust into this world with no direction, no choice about where we come from, and no idea where to look for relief. Yet the Bible also says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And He asks that we love each other the way He loves us.

There’s a Sara Groves song that says, “Loving a person just the way they are is no small thing, it takes some time to see things through.” I’m learning this more and more each day. My friend Barbara works with troubled teenagers (many of whom are regular library patrons), and she says a lot of the kids she sees come from some pretty rough homes. Many of her teens have parents that are either addicted to drugs, abusive, or just don’t care. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have the very same people that made you not care about you. When I see the kids come into the library I work at and they act up, maybe they are really just begging for some kind of attention. It is the wrong way to get attention, of course, and we kick them out when they get too rowdy. But now I am starting to see there’s more there than just a taste for trouble.

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Years ago I met some one on an online writing workshop. He was a great poet—he’s been on Def Poetry Jam several times—but as a critic he was terrible. His comments were always brutal; he picked apart every grammatical error, every poorly structured sentence, and never told me how I could improve. He made me feel like I could never be a good enough writer. I’m no Hemingway by any means, but I don’t think he had to be that brutal. Would it have hurt to say at least one thing he liked, or maybe give a few encouraging words? I wasn’t his only target, though; he gave nearly every one in the workshop terrible reviews. He reminded me too much of the schoolyard bullies who mercilessly picked on me, and with each critique I grew more annoyed with him. One day I finally lost my temper, left him a profanity-laced message that almost got me into trouble, and we haven’t spoken since.

Recently I got to thinking about him, and I started getting mad. In my head I cursed him out and wished that every bad thing would happen to him. Suddenly an idea popped into my head: why not pray for him? So I did. I swallowed my pride, and prayed that God would bless him and guide him throughout his life. After I finished praying, I felt relieved. Instead of wasting my energy thinking negatively of him, I let go.

Now don’t think I’m saying I never had another negative thought about some one after that. Changing one’s mental attitude never just happens overnight. But for now I’m trying to get into the habit of praying for people instead of thinking negatively. I doubt I’ll ever be Mother Teresa, but I think I’m now starting to see things through.

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