The young man who stood alone on the pier, gazing out at Lake Michigan was different from me in many ways—his age, his ethnicity, and his style of clothing, to name a few. But like me, he obviously had come to the beach on this warm, fall afternoon to enjoy the gorgeous day and picturesque view. Because I’m a shy, quiet person, it never occurred to me to speak with him. But my girlfriend Cathy is naturally friendly, and she struck up a conversation with him. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and join in.
Earlier that morning in church, our pastor had encouraged us to stop looking at the things that divide us—our political views, our economic status, our religion, our gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity—and learn to see the Imago Dei, the image of God, in the people around us. After a political season that left our country fractured and angry, the pastor challenged us to be peacemakers, bringing shalom and “wholeness” to our little corner of the world, one person at a time.
And so in spite of my discomfort, I began talking with “Jason.” I quickly learned that he didn’t fit any of the stereotypes that I had assumed from his outward appearance. In a warm, soft-spoken voice, “Jason” told us that he was new in town and hadn’t made many friends, yet. He had moved here from a huge city because he wanted a different life from the one he’d been living, and a new start. He now had a good job as a restaurant manager, and a nice apartment. And he loved coming here to the beach to watch the ever-changing lake. We enjoyed a pleasant conversation and warm laughter then went our separate ways. I would like to think that as we spoke, any stereotypes he may have had of me were shattered, as well. Because as different as Jason and I are, we’re also the same in the most important way of all—beloved by God.
It’s not a New Year’s resolution as much as a “new life” resolution, but I pray that I’ll approach people differently in the year ahead. Talking with Jason gave me a tiny taste of how wonderful it is to see people as individuals, not in categories. It makes me wonder how many other “Jasons” are all around me who I’ve unfairly characterized as “different.” And while I don’t plan on making it a habit to strike up conversations with strangers on the beach, I do plan to look at how much alike the people around me are instead of noticing our differences. I want to be a peacemaker, bringing shalom and wholeness wherever I go, one person, one conversation at a time. Imagine how the world could be healed if each of us did the same?