“We- none of us- are ever clichés.”
There was a time not too long ago when I thought I was good at “discerning people’s character,” as the saying goes in Christian circles. In other words, I prided myself in being able to judge people and the “fruit” of their life (as referenced in Matthew 7:16). I readily assumed certain things based on what someone was wearing, how they talked, whether they looked me in the eye or not, their physical appearance, or their interests.
I arrived quickly to what I thought were accurate conclusions about people and their day to day lives. I thought my ability to see beyond the natural was a gift, keeping me from people who were not a good influence, who were out to harm me, or bring ruin in my life.
While living in South Africa, I was trained in how to properly keep me and my belongings safe. Always hide your purse in the boot- the trunk- when you’re driving. Lock your doors immediately when you get in your car and as soon as you step into your home. Make sure the security gate shuts behind you when coming into a housing complex. Don’t go for a run alone. Put burglar bars on all your windows and doors.
Protect yourself from people was the message I heard.
Not everyone has your best interest in mind. Some are out to get you, hurt you, break in and steal everything you own, maybe even at gunpoint if they’re desperate.
In South Africa, I grew ever more thankful for what I called my discerning spirit. It kept me on high alert, out of the path of danger.
But a few months into my new life in South Africa and I found myself petrified and picturing the worst situations happening to either me or my husband. My imaginings were based in reality, as I heard about new burglaries and attacks every Sunday at church. We were constantly praying for those affected and traumatized by criminal acts.
I didn’t know who to trust anymore. Everyone started to look guilty to me. I felt like I had secret insight into their inner heart space. He might be saying “good morning” to me on my run, but I think he stole a car the night before. She might be an encouraging friend, but I think she has a murky past or is struggling with an addiction.
There came a time when I needed to part with my discernment, actually, to be honest, I’m still parting ways with it. Sizing people up and down, trying to squish them into a stereotype in a second, or speculating their ugly sins and struggles at first sight is a terrible way to live, in case you’re wondering. How could I dare to call this a supernatural gift when it was only breeding fear and pride in my heart?
The truth is you and I don’t know anyone.
Not even married people know their spouse.
I am finally coming to a place of letting people be. The stories I make up about them in my head aren’t helpful or heroic. My critical eyes and spirit only serve to separate me from my fellow humans in ways that cause war and terror.
There’s now only one assumption I want to hold with people and that is this- this person is a fascinating, nuanced, and an extraordinary individual.
When I start from this premise, I notice my posture shifts to one of curiosity and questions and camaraderie. When I rank or compare or analyze their fruit, I miss their face and the lines of beauty, of stories, etched all over their skin.
I gave up my discernment gift awhile ago and I never want it back. There’s no protecting myself from people anymore, I’m letting them all break-in to my life.
People are not dangerous, but judgement is deadly.