I recently went to a women’s event where a well-dressed and put-together woman sat beside me. We exchanged pleasantries and as we talked I began to build a narrative in my head about the kind of life she has led. Based on her appearance, I decided that she has enjoyed a privileged existence–after all, all I really saw was a designer handbag, expensive clothes, manicured hands, and well-appointed hair and makeup. Honestly, I thought very little about her soul as we talked. I imagined that she is a little out of touch and maybe sort of clueless about what “regular” people face on a day-to-day basis. I judged that she is safely sheltered inside a world that doesn’t deal in tragedy or heartbreak or struggle.
As the event ended, she said a warm goodbye and I watched her walk away. My perception was set: she was nice, but probably had little understanding of the world most people operate within. I moved on and began chatting with others. Then somehow in a tearful conversation about raising our children, someone mentioned to me that this woman who had been sitting next to me had buried a little child not so long ago. She had watched her adorable son die. She had suffered along with him and probably wanted to die, too. She had made funeral arrangements and stood next to the gaping grave of her baby. I pictured her there, dressed in black. In unimaginable pain. In unbearable agony. Saying goodbye to her precious child.
What difference does it make how much her black dress cost or whose name was in the label?
I was so ashamed of myself for making judgments about what her faith has endured just because she had expensive clothes on. And, as I stood there, dumbfounded, I realized that I do this all the time. I size people up based on their appearance, and I decide what kind of faith experience they have had. I decide what they have endured and what they understand about life. I don’t know why I would ever do such a thing, knowing as I do how easy it can be to hide pain and heartbreak behind pressed clothes and styled hair. How many times have I stood in church and heard stories that I can never forget? Stories about how Jesus sustains us through all kinds of tragedy and pain, stories about how life really does go on because it has to. Stories about how no amount of money in the world will make a broken heart whole again.
The truth is that we have no clue what people have gone through in this life. Maybe instead of assuming I know what a woman’s life has been like, I should assume that I don’t know. I should assume that her faith has endured things that I couldn’t even imagine. And then maybe I would be more likely to see her as a soul instead of a fashion plate. As a fearfully and wonderfully made vision of God Himself, created in His image, and designed to glorify Him with her whole life.
I’ve thought about that well-dressed mama many times since that day. I have prayed that God would bring her comfort and peace. I have wondered how often it comes up in conversation, the terrible fact that she has buried a child. I have prayed that I would be one who sees her and others like her as precious souls and not as objects of speculation and judgment.
We are so much more than we appear. Take this difficult lesson of mine to heart: it doesn’t matter if a person is wearing designer clothes or sweatpants, if they appear clean or dirty, if they are educated or barely read and write. Every person is made in the image of our good and gracious God. And every person needs to be seen, soul-deep, and not just looked at.