I’ll never forget an uncle of mine who was just ‘different.’ He lived in the world on his own terms. For many, he was eccentric. Despite some of his interesting clothing choices and his nomadic ways, he was someone I adored. I didn’t see him regularly, but when he did show up for a visit it was always a treat to hear a colorful story that for some would-be make-believe. But for me, it was an opportunity to learn more about this relative who was not traditional by any standards. He was always so loving and supportive, even when he shared stories about his pursuit of angels and gold. At the time, mental health wasn’t prevalent. We didn’t have the language to understand his condition, and he was always labeled as crazy. I was never embarrassed by him because in being embarrassed I was basically taking ownership of his life and decisions—knowing I didn’t have the ability to change him. I loved my uncle dearly because of who he was.
It wasn’t until later in life that I began to understand that his way of life often caused conflict for others. They wanted him to be something he couldn’t become. He was never going to get a professional career as a banker, but his odd jobs allowed him to take care of himself and live in a house he owned. I remember other relatives placing their own standards on him of what they thought he could be if he only did ‘x, y, or z.’ They were frustrated. Yet their feelings never changed my uncle, and never changed who he was or the life he chose. Their frustration was ultimately a waste of energy, but it was also an unwillingness to accept that everyone is not the same. Having those expectations of others is unfair to them. But it’s also unfair to ourselves, because we don’t get to enjoy who they are because of a false narrative we’ve created about who they ‘should/could/would be.’
It’s interesting that we serve a God who created all types of people who are different in so many vast ways. God never saw diversity as a problem and yet, as humans, we are constantly on this rampage of trying to diminish others. We find ways to categorize people as ‘other’ to make ourselves feel more important, special, or elevated. When God created the earth and everything in it, he saw that it was good: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good,” Genesis 1:31. It would be wonderful if we allowed ourselves to see the good in others instead of always finding fault—focusing on what’s wrong, and trying to assimilate people into becoming what we think is best. Condemnation is dangerous. It creates an opportunity for us to believe that we are better than others and to develop a standard based on our thinking. If we are not careful, we will identify what’s wrong with everyone else instead of taking the time to see our own faults, failures and limitations. We become what Jesus said about the Pharisees: “whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness,” Matthew 23:27. We become hypocrites and not of any use to those we are around.
We end up leading with judgment instead of love.
Strangely enough, we do this to God. We place unrealistic expectations not only on others but on who God is and should be in our lives based on our limited lens and life experience. When you choose to make your view so small, you also limit God from becoming huge in your life and the lives of others. Changing ourselves is difficult. It’s insane that we then want to change people to become like us. Allowing God to be in control is the key. We would have a lot more peace and joy in our lives if we allowed God to be in charge instead. Yet we keep doing it. Now that is truly the definition of insanity.
(Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is the president of Soulstice Consultancy, LLC. To learn more about her, visit <drfroswabooker.com>.)