Summer has passed the halfway mark, and some of us are itching to return to school, while others are now slightly perturbed that I have reminded them of that fact. As the return to university grows imminent, I have been reflecting on my first year and pondering what the return will be like. There will be many old friends to catch up with as well as friends whose absence will be felt. There will also be fresh faces to meet. All of this leaves me in great anticipation. Flipping through my yearbook shows me that in spite of the fact that there were occasions I felt a bit hermit-ish during the first semester, the people at school were definitely responsible for many of the joys of this past school year.
I find people to be delightfully fascinating, as they are something akin to walking, talking pieces of art and collections of stories. I tell you this because for a little bit here it might sound as if I don’t care for people at all. That’s not true, rather the case is that sometimes I allow my viewpoint to become skewed. This is especially true when thrown into a new situation with crowds of strangers, where good sense seems to flee and pride or insecurity fight each other to take its place.
Pondering how this new season might progress has led me to rehash some of the lessons I learned during this past year.
Lesson One: Don’t write off people as potential friends.
During orientation I sat with a girl in the caf who was dressed in our school’s athletic paraphernalia. She consequently explained to me what cross country was, and the thought passed my mind that we wouldn’t be friends. The reason? Athletic people don’t like me, I told myself. Thankfully, I was proven wrong. If I had clung to this idea I would have missed out on an amazing friend.
Lesson Two: You never know how your common interests or differences will connect you
Begin asking questions, and you might just find that you have strange things in common. A favorite preacher, family members who know each other, being part of an obscure missions agency, a love of old TV shows, jazz, or Anne of Green Gables. All of these can serve to spark a friendship. Or, you’ll find that your differences are a chance to learn and stretch yourself. How good it can be to make friends with people who are not just like you, for it makes life so much more intriguing. You learn that what is normal for you might not be perceived as normal by someone else. For example, some people don’t view smelling books to be an enjoyable activity. Who knew?
Lesson Three: Don’t assume. Don’t do it. Really.
For the outgoing introvert such as myself, being forced into a crowd of strangers provokes many assumptions. They can range from disparaging thoughts of “oh, they’d never want to talk to me” to the desire to instantly shove others into manageable categories. However, doing this is a recipe for trouble. I have found that I can learn something from everybody, and taking the time to get to know someone better often reveals startling discoveries.
The quiet one is just waiting to be asked to tell a story. The insecure girl blooms when given a little encouragement. The suave guy is actually not very kind, but some of the slightly awkward people truly are. The unassuming fellow is exceedingly talented. The girl who seems to have it all together needs Jesus just as much as the rest of us. The “carefree” ones often use jokes and smiles to cover the pain they deal with regularly, whether it be physical or emotional.
This has shown me that I must seek to love people from the beginning, and not wait until they show me some quality that I deem “likable” before I decide to do so. That is Biblical, after all, while my temptation to categorize people (including myself on occasion) according to “worthiness” is not.
Lesson Four: Observing other people is a chance to be inspired
This past year I found myself inspired by many who were likely unaware of this fact. I saw the pains they took to finish a job correctly, or how they listened attentively when others were speaking. I saw them include the person who appeared lost in the cafeteria, and sometimes that lost person was me. I saw how they spoke the truth in love even though it made them uncomfortable. I saw how they humbly accepted this loving rebuke. I saw how intent they were on learning, their endless hospitality, the love they have for people groups they’ve never encountered, or the simple joy they gained from a good conversation. I’ve observed the ways God has changed them, the ways He’s using them, and the passions He’s given them. I saw their honesty about their brokenness, listened to their thankfulness, and observed their willingness to drop what they were doing to pray with those who needed it. In these things I saw God’s handiwork.
I am thankful for the dear people at school who became friends and are becoming friends. I am thankful for the nights I came home to scads of shoes scattered across the entry way, and a living room so crammed full of smiling faces that I had to step over people to get to my room. I might not have always been awake enough to join them, but I most certainly enjoyed hearing their laughter from the other room as I drifted to sleep. I am thankful for those who included me when I was too tired to attempt to include myself. I am thankful for those who shared stories with me this year, whether it be their testimony or fanciful fiction drawn from their well of creativity. I am thankful that the Lord has reminded me that we all are in different chapters of our redemption stories, and that instead of drawing swift conclusions about people I should rather seek to encourage them in this grand story. I am also incredibly thankful for those who have chosen to encourage me in this way.
Encountering a person is encountering a new volume of stories, and as they say, you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Whether at school or the grocery store, we meet them every day. It’s all rather exciting, don’t you think?