I have heard this quote, or a variation "Treat people gently, you have no idea the load they are bearing" a handful of times in my adult life. In recent months, however, God has revealed the truth of this sentiment to me through amazing, unexpected encounters.
Since letting go of some of my volunteer work that involved hours of weekly meetings and spending more time investing in relationships with people, I have been pounded by this truth. I confess that on more than one occasion I have been humbled to realize that the way I had 'pegged' someone was totally off base. I confess that I have drawn conclusions about people based on the image they chose to portray--and once I have had the time and the opportunity to really get to know them I have found treasure I almost missed.
Tuesday morning in my small group we were talking about gossip. Specifically, we were discussing the harm of 'just listening' to gossip versus passing it on. We agreed that even the listening was harmful because of the taint it gave to your opinion of someone.
I was reminded of an experience I had a few years ago. Friends of ours had moved into town to be involved in ministry. One night over dinner as we were welcoming them I decided I should 'warn' them about someone. (I know, I know...Go easy on me. I am confessing here.) As I started to give them a little salacious background (that seemed defensible and appropriate at the time) they stopped me.
"You know," they grinned, "It sounds like a great story, but we want to get to know people for ourselves--no baggage."
Talk about some humble pie! I was convicted and a little embarassed, but also inspired. What courage to stop me mid sentence! (and somehow it was not offensive the way they pulled it off.)
I don't think we will understand what it is about our human (sin) nature that makes 'pegging someone' or knowing their dirt so tempting. We can rationalize it a hundred different ways. "This isn't gossip, because I know it is true..." or my favorite, "You know they are going through a hard time..."
And, yet, we must respect when a story is OURS to tell and when it isn't.
I think I have made it clear that I like order, compartments, reason...I like people to be characters that I can generalize and plug into a story... the hero/heroine, the victim, the adversary, the comic relief.
But life is not that simple. We are all in each of those roles depending on the scene--and truly, from the perspective of eternity, we are all equally the wretched, disobedient, rebellious sinner in need of saving grace.
Lord, give me eyes to see people the way you do... with delight and love. The most annoying, sinful, frustrating person I know is a child of yours. Give me gentleness beyond myself and grace that cannot be explained apart from You. Your children are worth it!