The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about.
From “Winnie the Pooh” by A.A. Milne
Do you listen to people? I mean, really listen. Today I heard a friend for the first time. I’ve known him for a number of years. Been an acquaintance, said hello on the street, even chatted for several minutes. But I didn’t listen to him. I was too busy looking at what he did and where he’d been. Today I actually feel like I know a little of who he is.
This wasn’t going to be one of my “preachy” notes, but I have been a bit more contemplative tonight. When life’s truths hit me, it takes a little of the jocularity out of my mood. As my friend Eeyore said, “We can’t all and some of us don’t, you know…Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.” So, this evening, I’ve been thinking…
What I’ve been thinking about is: Who do people think that I am? Easy-schmeasy! You’re that guy who writes a bad joke every day on his Facebook page…That guy who runs the music store…That guy who leads music at my church…That guy who plays the Horn at the Candlelight Service…That guy… But, I didn’t ask you what I do. I asked you who I am. Do you know me? The real me?
We spend our lives seeing the filters, the framework, but never looking past them to the person. Honestly, there are only a very few people who I know, really know. And maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but I want more. As my friend and I talked today, I caught a partial glimpse of what made him tick, part of what makes the whole person he is, not just the filters. I didn’t just see a professor, or a musician, or a radio personality. Oh, he’s done all of those things and they’ve helped to shape the person, but when we really listen and genuinely communicate, we can see, dimly at least, into the substance of what makes the man or woman. And as I thought about what a great gift it is to learn about someone, I started wondering about how I present the real me to you.
I like to think that I’m upfront about who I am, that my friends know what drives me, but I know that’s an illusion. The belief that you know who I am comes because I’m constantly aware of it. Mostly, I know my faults and secret sins and it’s hard to believe that everyone I come in contact with doesn’t see them written on my face. I want to be honest, but I protect myself from hurt and exposure by keeping who I really am to myself. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the way God planned it, but we’ve messed up the relationship thing about as much as everything else He had in mind for us way back there.
I’m not suggesting that we need to “let it all hang out”. What I would propose is that we start by realizing that our postman isn’t just the postman. Your hairdresser isn’t only the hairdresser. The President isn’t really what the publicity and press make him out to be. Those titles and descriptions are just some of the filters. The visible person is actually just the container for a real person, with dreams, remorse, joy, and sadness. There’s more to every one of those stories than what you think you know. Let’s just spend a little more time finding out who people are and not just what they do.
“For the Lord sees not as man sees: Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7b)