Saturday, I stepped out of the shower and was immediately greeted by my four-year old daughter. There is no more vulnerable feeling than having someone invade your personal space as you attempt to dry off. But she was determined to show me something. She held a parenting magazine that my wife reads in her little hands. She looked up from it and matter-of-factly said, “I don’t like black people.”
I almost fell down. Of the billions of possible things she could possibly say in this particular moment, I can’t imagine anything more difficult to hear or respond to. It is the rare time I would have much preferred some question about my barely towel covered anatomy. But, I had to respond. She made the statement and stared blankly at me, awaiting my reply.
Now, my heart was really wanting to shut this down. Tell her something like “oh silly, of course you like black people.” Immediately stamp it out with “we don’t say things like that.” But something within me held me back, so I simply asked, “Why?”
“I don’t like the skin or the hair,” she stated. HOLY MOLY! I am crumbling on the inside. Where did this come from? Just Wednesday night at church I watched her gather with the church around a man needing prayer. She laid her hands on him. He is black. What is going on? What have we done wrong in raising her? I could mentally see the headlines in some media publication: “Christian Homeschool Family Raises Racist Monsters!”
Then she showed me an advertisement in the magazine. “See” she said. “I don’t like it. I like this one better.” What she was pointing at were two pictures of white women. One was in black and white, the other in color. What she didn’t like was black and white photographs. It’s drabness she hates. “I like the colors better,” she said as I felt my pulse begin to slow. “Can I color this one?” “Absolutely,” I sighed with great relief.
As my daughter wandered off looking for crayons, I got dressed and thought about those few moments. So much happened. So many emotions. So much fear. I wanted so badly to immediately begin fixing the “problem.” But my wife’s voice and many parenting books rang in my ears, “just listen.” So I did. Through it all the one thing I did well was this: I didn’t stop the conversation. I asked why. I let her explain. Thank goodness I did.
But how often we don’t slow down. We live in a time where jumping to conclusions is simply a way of life. In our sound-bite society, we are trained to hear a little bit, and draw massive conclusions. With a sentence or two we can nail a person’s political leanings or religious ideology. All I need is a few words and I can create a mountain of opinion.
What I don’t need is more information. What I don’t need is context. Information and context just slow me down. They keep me from drawing the simple conclusions I find so comforting. I prefer to quickly categorize people and ideas so they match up with what I already believe. When I slow down and listen I am forced to admit the complicated nature of life and people. Going slow pushes aside my sound-bite politics or catchphrase religion.
Slowing down not only allows the words to have a context, but the person as well. Most people who I really know, even if I disagree with their position, I don’t find them hateful. I have people very close to me who share radically different views on several controversial topics, but I am able to see these views as part of a whole.
As a follower of Christ, I am amazed by how often I jump to conclusions. How often I assume that others are mean-spirited, prejudiced, closed-minded, and just downright don’t care. I hear a blurb, read a piece of an article, or catch a snippet of a conversation and I am off and running. I then quickly lump the perpetrator in with other like-minded perpetrators. It is quick, easy, and utterly stupid.
We all know we are to take the plank out of our own eye before attempting to remove the speck in someone else’s eye. But in our haste all we need is the hint that there might be a speck and we are jabbing away with our thumbs. And if that speck is something we truly despise, well look out.
Jesus asks me to slow down. Not just “don’t judge”, but slow down. See the whole person. Listen to their heart as well as their words. Be patient. Why am I in such a hurry to settle things? Jesus calls me to live in the nuances and paradoxes of people. I cannot do that when I am in a rush.
If I try to slow down, to take a little time, to not be so quick to decide, it means changing some well-ingrained habits. It means holding my tongue. It means asking more and better questions. It means being okay with being puzzled or unsure. It means letting someone explain. It means not assuming I understand. It means giving the benefit of the doubt. It means offering what I so want from others; a little patience.