In answer to the question, “Are there alligators in that lake?,” a Florida realtor responded, “If it’s a body of water any larger than a puddle in Florida, there is an alligator there.” True enough, a run around two small lakes last week provided views of two alligators…that I could see. So when I run in Florida, I am constantly looking for them.
The problem with looking for alligators is that you miss stuff. I missed a great view of the town across the lake. I missed watching children play in the (heavily fenced in) lakeside playground. I missed hearing a couple speaking in a foreign accent as they experienced the beauty of the flora and fauna. Keeping vigilant in my alligator quest, I miss stuff.
Do you ever do this with people? Do you look for the alligators in them? Social life today has brought out a kind of meanness in people that did not exist ten years ago. I read someone’s post and it offends me. I respond with something strong, and offend them. Others read the exchange and they circle the lake, realizing the alligators are showing their teeth and they want nothing to do with it. And the next time I see them in real life, I am prejudiced and stand-offish.
I wonder if I am creating the alligator. Anticipation of someone’s teeth may actually be giving them teeth that they weren’t planning to use. A fight or disagreement from years past may rise up in my mind when I am about to see them again, and take on alligator-like proportions in my perception. And because I greet them with hesitancy and suspicion, I may actually be summoning the beast where one did not exist. Meanwhile, I miss seeing their true self. My empathy and understanding are dulled even before I open the door to let them in, and I miss moments of humor and gentleness.
Having a pre-conceived notion of someone is not always helpful. People change, but we miss it. We see alligators where they do not exist.
I am so glad that God does not treat me this way.
1 Samuel 16 Common English Bible (CEB)
Samuel anoints David
16 4 Samuel did what the Lord instructed. When he came to Bethlehem, the city elders came to meet him. They were shaking with fear. “Do you come in peace?” they asked.
5 “Yes,” Samuel answered. “I’ve come to make a sacrifice to the Lord. Now make yourselves holy, then come with me to the sacrifice.” Samuel made Jesse and his sons holy and invited them to the sacrifice as well.
6 When they arrived, Samuel looked at Eliab and thought, That must be the Lord’s anointed right in front.
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Have no regard for his appearance or stature, because I haven’t selected him. God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”
8 Next Jesse called for Abinadab, who presented himself to Samuel, but he said, “The Lord hasn’t chosen this one either.” 9 So Jesse presented Shammah, but Samuel said, “No, the Lord hasn’t chosen this one.” 10 Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord hasn’t picked any of these.” 11 Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Is that all of your boys?”
“There is still the youngest one,” Jesse answered, “but he’s out keeping the sheep.”
“Send for him,” Samuel told Jesse, “because we can’t proceed until he gets here.”
12 So Jesse sent and brought him in. He was reddish brown, had beautiful eyes, and was good-looking. The Lord said, “That’s the one. Go anoint him.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him right there in front of his brothers. The Lord’s spirit came over David from that point forward.
“God doesn’t look at things like humans do. Humans see only what is visible to the eyes, but the Lord sees into the heart.”
This is a reminder to us today to look at the hearts of those around us, not the outward appearance of things. Look beyond the snarkastic post, the angry retort, the past history, and put your God-Goggles on. How does God see this person in front of you? If you look harder, the alligator you are anticipating might not even be there. God sees us as people of intrinsic value, and thought highly enough of us to send his son as an expression of his unconditional love for each one of us. God sees into the heart.
Go, and see likewise.
Photo by Kenn Haas