People are like icebergs

Imagine yourself in a small group. Doesn’t have to be church related. Maybe it’s a social club or a work event, and the goal at your table or in your particular circle of chairs is to get to know each other better. What three questions do people ask most frequently? In my experience, it’s name, occupation, and favorite movie. Or maybe favorite dessert (right, Tour Guides?).

Sure, it’s a great ice breaker. Yeah, it’s an easy, non-threatening way to get people talking. But come on. Can you really get to know someone better from those three things?

Names are always fascinating, but in today’s society, a name doesn’t mean the same thing it used to. And a job? Sure, jobs can tell you a lot about somebody, but a job is usually just a title. I’ve learned is that a job title is always only the top layer of someone.

And movies? Maybe in some cases you can learn a lot about someone from the movies they watch, but you can’t learn where a person is at in their lives simply because they enjoy a certain movie.

It’s tempting, though. It’s easy to put people in boxes because they’re easier to control there. In our own minds, if we label and organize people according our assumptions about them, they aren’t threatening anymore. Maybe I do that because I’m an insecure introvert, or maybe it’s more widespread than that.

Whether everyone does it or it’s just me, it’s not a good idea. People are like icebergs, and the real person underneath extends much father below the surface than you can see at a glance.

IcebergToday’s verse is 1 Samuel 16:7 (again).

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

I just blogged on this verse last week, but there’s no better statement I know to illustrate what God is reminding me of today. No matter what I see on the outside, a person is much more on the inside. And maybe I can’t see that, but God can.

When you meet someone new, do you automatically classify them in your brain? Do you categorize them or put them on mental shelves or file them away to be examined later? I do. And, honestly, I’m not even sure that approach is wrong.

It’s important to make a judgment call about the people you choose to get close to. If you want to stop partying, it’s not a good idea to strike up a close friendship with a partier. That’s a bad example, but you get the point. Sometimes you have to judge a relationship based on actions, and in many cases, that’s wise.

But if someone tells you their favorite movie or book or even job title, does that give you any insight into his or her heart? Absolutely not! But it’s tempting to see it that way.

You hear someone is a factory worker or a car mechanic, and what do you think? You hear someone is a banker or a stock broker, what do you think? You hear someone is a school teacher or a state employee, what do you think?

We like labels because once we label people, they aren’t threatening to us. Or at least we think they aren’t. That’s the funny thing about icebergs. Even if you label them harmless, they can still sink unsinkable ships.

A person’s heart is usually always different than what they look like on the outside, and there’s no easy, simple, three-question process you can go through that will shed any light on that. You can’t learn everything about a person in a few minutes. There is no such thing as a simple person. There’s no such thing as a person without a story.

So don’t think you can understand where someone is at because they like watching Big Bang Theory or Christmas Vacation. And don’t label someone a wild-eyed right-wing conservative because they watch Fox News. Before you can know where someone is at, you have to know their heart.

That’s what matters. That’s where the real person lives. It’s so much easier to address the outside. It’s so much less stressful to focus on what we can see, but imagine what you’ll miss if you write people off because you’re only looking at what’s obvious. Imagine the opportunities that will walk right past you because you assumed that factory worker was just a factory worker.

No, we can’t see people’s hearts. Only God can do that. But we can stop focusing so much on the outside or on what culture tells us to look at, and we do spend more time getting to know the person underneath.

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