Several years ago, my wife and I planted a church in North Carolina and were privileged to start out in our own permanent facility rather than meeting in a portable setting like a school or movie theatre. This was usually an unthinkable feat in most church-planting circles, and we knew it. We considered ourselves unbelievably blessed. After spending years with other church plants who did full set-up and teardown week in and week out, walking into a ready-to-go building on Sunday mornings was like taking a breath of fresh air. (Now, before the portable church planters take this book and throw it through their office window, I should mention that that facility only accommodated us for a little over a year, and we quickly had to move into a much more portable situation at a local daycare, so trust me when I say, I get it, and you guys are my heroes!)
At any rate, the facility we initially utilized used to be an old furniture store that had been converted into a business office years later. When we took possession of the building, we simply knocked out all the non-load bearing walls that had been installed for the office space and opened the building back up to it’s original design. We kept things extremely minimalistic. By just staining and sealing the concrete floors throughout the building, and painting the exposed roof deck black in order to give it that high ceiling effect, it became an extremely cool space. It had a really modern feel when you walked through the doors, and we were proud of that. Beside its overall size, the building really only had one major fault…sound. It was an acoustical nightmare. Now, between the padded chairs, and the ceiling insulation in the auditorium, we were able to overcome most of that. But our lobby sound was absolutely atrocious. Because of the floors and the ceiling, it had that old catholic cathedral effect and any noise that was made reverberated throughout the entire facility. The one benefit was that it was like singing in the shower x10. It was the one place where if I sang “Livin On A Prayer,” I actually sounded like Jon Bon Jovi. (hypothetically of course)
I remember one Sunday when we accidentally set off the fire alarm, the noise was so deafening in that lobby, that we actually had people complain of long-term hearing damage weeks after the fact.
The summer that we were there, we used the lobby space for a YMCA kids summer camp, and I remember choosing to avoid my office and work out of a Starbucks that whole summer, because of how loud that lobby echoed through our building. No bluetooth speaker I could afford was going to cover it up.
One Thursday afternoon, I was sitting in our church office, which was adjacent to our lobby, trying to get some last minute work done for that weekends worship experience. I remember sitting in the building, completely alone (which was a rarity at our particular facility), and thinking of how thankful I was that God had cleared the building that day, and that I had a place like that to get away from it all, as I DESPERATELY needed to focus on an important upcoming conversation I was going to be having with our church family. I was in the zone too. Thoughts were flowing. It was as if the presence of God speaking over my heart was a crystal clear audiobook blaring through a brand new pair of Beats by Dre that He was reciting audibly right to me. It was one of “those” moments. I was in a spiritual and study utopia. No kids, no co-workers, no parishioners…just me, God, and my laptop. It was glorious. It WAS glorious.
Just as I had rounded the halfway point on my notes, I heard the front door unlock to the lobby of the building. No, I wasn’t close by, that’s just how loud the lobby was, that you could literally hear a key turning 75 yards away.
I thought to myself “maybe if I sit right here, still and quiet, whoever it is will go to another part of the facility, and stay out of my proverbial moment of zen.” And guess what, I was right.
Whoever it was made their way over to our children’s wing (which was on the opposite side of the building) to get some work done in one of our kids rooms. Crisis averted. I quickly went right back into “the zone.”
After a few more minutes of working, I began to hear what sounded like a preschool-age or early elementary aged child running around and playing in the lobby. I thought, “Are you kidding me!?” If you’re going to work, the least you could do is take your loud mouthed kid back there with you.” I immediately started hearing the voices of the deacons I grew up with in my traditional baptist church as they scolded me and reminded me (and my parents I might add), that “the church was no place for a child to be running around acting a’fool.” As much as I hated that rhetoric growing up, and certainly don’t agree with it now, in that moment, I was their amen corner. All I could think was “that’s right, where has the reverence for the house of the Lord gone?” In truth, I was probably more concerned about their reverence for me, but in the moment, it was justified.
As much as I wanted to go out and let my old school Baptist roots fly, and give that kid a piece of my mind, I simmered and restrained. I reminded myself that whoever had come in was likely a volunteer giving their time and energy to the work of the church, and that the last thing I needed to do was put a bad taste for serving Jesus in their mouth, or in the mouth of their kid. So I took a breath, reached in my bag, grabbed my headphones, and decided to rise above.
After about 20 minutes of doing my best to focus and get back in my rhythm, what we had affectionately called “the lobby effect” began to occur. That was the term we had used when noises from the lobby began to outweigh any artificial noise you created to mask it in any other part of the building. I literally had my headphones CRANKED to the max and could still hear noises coming from the lobby.
So I took off my headphones to listen and make sure I wasn’t crazy. Sure enough, “the kid” had struck again. But this time, it wasn’t just playing, it was screaming, like top of your lungs yelling over and over again. That compounded with the acoustics of the lobby made for what sounded like Dumb and Dumber’s “most annoying sound in the world.” Don’t know what I’m talking about? Look it up for reference…it will help paint the picture of what I was dealing with.
Now remember, I had made the decision to leave it alone, and keep to myself. But the problem was, it wasn’t going away. The noise just kept going, and going, and GOING. I started thinking to myself “I know if I can hear this THROUGH headphones, then this kid’s mom or dad HAS to be able to hear it.” So I decided to wait, and give the parent a chance to swoop in and whoop up on some craziness. But you guessed it…that moment never came.
The noise just kept going. The kid just kept yelling, and I could feel my blood pressure beginning to rise. I was ready to rip this disrespectful kid a new one. Not only that, my anger for the parent that would let their child act that way was going through the roof.
At one point, I cooled off, and tried to give them them the benefit of the doubt, that maybe this kid was hurt or something and wasn’t being rude, but instead was crying out in pain. But after hearing him jump across the lobby, and hearing the cadence change repeatedly, I quickly realized that this wasn’t the case at all.
I waited, and waited, and waited, and began to realize that waiting wasn’t going to solve the problem. In fact it got to the point that if I waited anymore, I was going to roll out there and excommunicate this family (and I’m not even catholic!)
So I decided that I had had enough. Something had to be done, and at this point, it would be irresponsible to leave this situation alone. So in absolute anger, I slammed my laptop shut, threw my headphones down on the table, and jumped up out of my chair. As much as I hate to admit it, I was on the warpath. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do when I got my hands on this kid, but whatever it was, I was fully aware that it might cost me my job, and in that moment I didn’t care. I was LIVID.
So I threw open the door to my office, possibly denting the sheetrock behind it, and began to walk down the hall. I remember rolling up my sleeves like I was about to have a schoolyard brawl, (which in retrospect was ridiculous considering I was fully aware based on the sound of his voice that this kid had to be in like 1st grade or younger), and turned the corner into the lobby.
PAUSE. This is the turning point in the story. But as I proceed, keep in mind…NOTHING about the circumstances have changed.
The moment I turned the corner, EVERYTHING changed for me. A seismic shift took place in my heart and mind. In a matter of milliseconds, I had forgotten all about my frustration, my anger, and my bitterness. No, the screaming hadn’t stopped, and I didn’t get knocked on the floor by a bright light or a voice from Heaven.
I simply turned the corner and everything was different…not because of what what happening, but because of WHO. I. SAW.
For the past several years we have been friends with a couple from our church who has a little boy with severe autism. His name is McConaughey. McConaughey has never said a word because he’s non-verbal. The best he can do is make noises at different levels to communicate his approval or disapproval of situations. He also has an ipad that he listens to and mumbles along with while watching shows and listening to music. He is one of the kindest, sweetest, and cutest kids on the planet.
When I turned the corner, I saw McConaughey in the lobby with his headphones on playing, and attempting to sing along to whatever he was listening to. That was the noise I was hearing from the office. His mom was doing some work in one of our children’s environments and didn’t realize anyone else was in the building to disturb, and so she was just letting her son play, the only way he knows how.
As I write these words, tears are literally streaming down my face as I remember and re-live the overwhelming emotion that flooded my heart the moment I turned that corner.
I no longer saw what this kid was DOING…I saw WHO this kid was. And I wasn’t angry anymore. Not even a little. In fact I was filled with compassion. All because I simply moved from seeing a problem, to seeing a person.
What’s interesting is seeing McConaughey standing in that lobby didn’t just completely transform the way I treated him that day, it transformed the way I WANTED to treat him. It wasn’t just a change in my behavior based on conviction. It was literally a change in the way I felt about the screaming kid from the lobby. The internal feelings of anger and frustration made a B-line for the exit completely and immediately.
See the first time I heard him, I made a decision. That decision was to change my behavior…change my actions, change my response. But that never works does it? We can choose to change how we treat people all day long, but eventually, we cave…just like I did. Because ultimately, changing what you do isn’t permanent…but changing what you see, that’s eternal.
I think in our culture, we end up in one of two camps. We either hope and pray the situations and circumstances in our world or relationships change, OR, we just accept the world for what it is, and we batten down the hatches and just try our best to respond to it differently. But what if there’s a better way. A way that actually changes our reality, from the inside out, rather than the outside in.
See, nothing about my situation changed. This kid kept right on screaming even after I went out into the lobby. And my attempt to keep my mouth shut didn’t work either…because eventually, we will always get to the point where we’ve had enough. But everything did in fact change for me, the moment my paradigm changed.
I saw someone with a need for compassion. I saw someone who needed grace. I saw someone who needed support and understanding, rather than condemnation and disdain. And all it took, was turning the corner, and opening my eyes.
After an exhaustive look through the scriptures, we come to the inevitable conclusion that when God looks at humanity, when he sees you and me, He doesn’t label us by what we do. He doesn’t see us based on our mistakes, our shortcomings, or even our ignorant decisions based on faulty worldviews. He sees US. He sees our names, he sees our faces. He sees people who were created in his image. He sees people whom He loves with a reckless abandon, and whom He would bankrupt heaven for. That’s why the creator of the universe has chosen to treat his creation with words like grace and mercy…because he knows us. He doesn’t simply know about us…He KNOWS us.
The moment I turned that corner, my response to McConaughey changed. Why? Because I KNOW him. I know his story, I know his family, I know their struggles, I know their heart for him, I KNOW him. And when I saw HIM, not what he was doing, it changed my response, and not just my response, but honestly how I felt on the inside.
The amazing truth is, when we begin to see people the way that God does, [seeing people for who they are, rather than what they do] we won’t have to TRY so hard to treat them differently. We won’t have to keep trying to mask our inner feelings towards people because our inner feelings will actually shift. We won’t judge based off of mistakes or choices, but we’ll seek to care for and know someone IN SPITE OF their mistakes or choices.
If I’m being honest, there are a lot of people in this life that feel like the screaming kid in the lobby to me. There are a lot of people I struggle loving, that frustrate me, that I disagree with, or that consistently say and do things that don’t make any sense to me. But I’m learning that the REASON they frustrate me, or that I disagree with them, or that I have trouble loving them has NOTHING to do with who they are. It has EVERYTHING to do with what they do. If I can get past the things people are doing that I don’t like and begin seeing who people really are, I’m convinced it will COMPLETELY transform my response AND my feelings toward them. But it will require us to see people the way that God sees people…
Can you imagine how differently we would treat every relationship we have if we SAW people the way their creator does? The Psalmist gives us a beautiful picture of how the creator sees his creation:
Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you, the days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.
Seeing someone who was created in detail, is loved as a son or daughter, is cared for beyond belief, is known without borders, and who has been passionately pursued WILL change how we treat that individual. But first we have to SEE them that way.
But I feel like for many of us, we never leave the proverbial office. We stay in this position of judgement, anger, and frustration over behavior that we don’t even fully understand. We’ve never walked into the lobby and seen the who behind the what. And we constantly respond to people based on the what, rather than the who. And the biggest reason we never see the who, is because honestly, we don’t look. When is the last time you had a conversation with someone you had an issue with , not to argue your point, but to get to know their heart? When is the last time you took someone you don’t like out to coffee, just to get to get to know them a little better?
I realized in the hours following that instant in the lobby, that I had somehow made a critical error in the way I interacted with people, and I don’t think I’m the only one. See with McConaughey, all it took was one look, and everything changed for me. But that’s because of how I SEE him. The problem is, most of the time, I DON’T see other people with those same compassionate eyes. What if I looked at my neighbor the way I looked at McConaughey? What about my spouse, my kids, my boss, that annoying co-worker, that estranged family member, that person who always votes for the other guy. What if we began seeing EVERYONE through the eyes of compassion…for who they are, rather than what they do? Because that’s how God operates. Imagine how it would change us if we did too.
One of the greatest tools the enemy uses in our lives is the instrument of deception. He plants thoughts in our mind about people that aren’t based in reality. I had so many thoughts running through my mind about McConaughey, about his family, about their parenting strategy, about his behavior and ALL of it was based on false pretenses. If I had seen who it was making the noise, it would have demolished all those thoughts. But because I had not yet SEEN, it left the door open for deceit. But the moment I SAW McConaughey, it immediately closed that door, and like a vacuum, sucked all those thoughts from my mind.
The truth is, you’ll never truly value who people are if you don’t see who it is God created them to be. Imagine this: what if we began to place the same VALUE on people, not just some people, but ALL people that God places on people. What if those same people we struggle loving unconditionally because of what they DO, became unbelievably valuable to us the moment we see who they ARE. I would argue that we never look and sound more like Jesus than when we look beyond people’s past mistakes and instead focus on their future potential.
In the tenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus sending out His twelve disciples for the work of ministry. But before He sends them out, He wants them to know how valuable they are to Him, because of the difficulties they’re going to face. He wants them to understand how much potential He sees in them because of how deeply He knows them. Now, keep in mind, these were the very guys who would eventually run for their lives when he was arrested, deny they ever knew him, and doubt the truth of his resurrection. He had PLENTY of reasons to struggle with being compassionate towards this particular group. But in His encouragement to them, he says that His Heavenly Father is so aware of the details of His creation, that He even knows when a (monetarily worthless) sparrow falls from the sky. But that they are FAR more valuable than any sparrow. He’s wanting them to know just how VALUABLE they are to Him. And that value is proven in the subsequent chapters time and time again when Jesus offers not only forgiveness, but commissions them for building His church, DESPITE their mistakes. See, the value you place on someone will always trump what they’ve said or what they’ve done.
I’m convinced that when we begin to place the same value on people that God has placed on them, we’ll start to see past what they do, and begin to see who it is that God created them to be. And that change of perspective will ultimately be the catalyst that changes who WE are.
Ask yourself, who in my life am I listening to from the office, rather than seeing in the lobby? Who do I need to stop judging, and start seeing? Who is frustrating me, that I struggle to understand, because I don’t SEE them the way their creator sees them? And more importantly, am I willing to turn the corner at the end of the hall, and SEE who it is I’ve been missing…