I stack the dirty plates and bowls in the sink, organizing the chaos before I begin the mundane task of washing them. I pump blue dishwashing soap onto the sponge, and while my hands work to wash bits of breakfast and lunch off the plain white Corelle plates, my mind turns to wandering. I look out the window to watch the next door neighbor doing renovations to their house, and I wonder if stress levels are elevated in their home or if this is a normal part of their life. The wall separating our homes only lets me see the heads of the construction workers and half a window — an opening too small to figure out what room it opens up to and what they could possibly be working on to better their living space.
I don’t know much about our neighbor and his wife except from what I’ve seen and pieced together from our short interactions. The husband is friendly, always waving hi to our kids as they bike by his house, and he walks his two stocky dogs, which remind me of the three-headed dog in the first Harry Potter movie, around the neighborhood at least once a day.
I wonder about their life as I watch through the kitchen window, but at best, I can only imagine the life they lead, what makes them laugh or cry, the level of happiness in their home, and the pain they could be facing. Half a window and neighborhood small talk only give a shadow of a glimpse into their lives and the kind of people they are.
I think about how little we know of people as I scroll through social media later that night. I live vicariously through pictures of my friends’ beach vacations, and I amen every powerful post written about the intersections of faith, life, our humanity, and justice. For a brief moment, I wonder about the people behind the words, the pictures, and the kind of lives they have, the motivation and inspiration that brought them to their phones to share their convictions and art with us. And though I know this little square window only shows a sliver of who they are, I’m quick to create a whole story about them, adding reasonable assumptions and possible details. I create a person in my mind from what I see, and I either elevate them with honor, judge them without insight, or envy them. I flatten a three-dimensional, real human being into a two-dimensional character — someone easy to compartmentalize and understand instead of the complex people they really are.
And then, in the midst of my thoughts, I see Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The people shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38 ESV), but they can’t see Him fully for who He is. They only see Him for who they want Him to be — a king to rule over them. And He will disappoint them by dying on the cross. They could only see what they could from their perspective, but there was so much more to who Jesus was and why He had come.
My insides squirm as I remember this moment in history, and defensive words come to the tip of my soul, ready to explain away my part in making an angel or demon of someone I don’t know well enough. I want to argue that this is how social media is and that I can’t know better because what I see is all I see and that everyone else is doing it too. But my defense is lacking, and God invites me to sit in the discomfort of my convictions: I only see in part, and what I see is not the whole of someone’s personhood. It’s just a glimpse.
The rebuke is kind because I need it, and my heart softens in repentance. I ask God to remind me every day, every time, I want to reduce someone to a story I make up about them from the slivers of what I get to see on social media: Help me to see the whole humanity of the person as beloved by You.Leave a Comment