I have always prided myself on being open-minded and non-judgmental. I am a non-conformist by nature. For some reason I have just always felt driven to push against the norms our society imposes on us. As a result, I have always thought of myself as something of a free-spirit. This manifested itself in all kinds of non-productive ways when I was younger. Rebellious behavior that had real consequences; but that’s a story for a different post.
“Our glass walls convince us that our happiness is somewhere else, whether that is just around the corner or beyond all hope.”
We live in a time and culture that encourages inclusion. We teach our children that no one should be excluded based on external things. We also teach them that they can be anything they want. Nothing is out of sight. Unfortunately, we also live in world filled with glass walls; barriers that we cannot see. They’re made up or our preconceptions and fears; our limited perspective. They tell us it’s “us vs. them” & “survival of the fittest.” Our glass walls convince us that our happiness is somewhere else, whether that is just around the corner or beyond all hope. They keep our hearts and our lives trapped; isolated in a maze we have no way of navigating. The worst part is that we don’t even know exist until we run up against them. That’s what makes them so devastating. Because we can’t see them, when we feel their confining presence, we believe there is no hope of ever going beyond them. Glass walls are quite literally the barriers that stand between us and joy.
Our society emphasizes the visual. We engage things based on how they look. This shows up in every form of communication from advertising to social interaction. We are no longer satisfied to post statuses or send text messages, now we Instagram and Snap Chat. “A picture is worth a thousand words” right? We put so much emphasis on it, in fact, that when we can see something we stop paying attention to anything else about it. So when we start moving in a particular direction and we run up against a glass wall, we think it is simply a reality that we have to accept. We have to learn to identify them. That’s the first key to finding freedom. We have to start to trust that feeling that comes when we run up against them even when we can’t see them. Only then can we start to move beyond the glass walls in our lives and enjoy everything that this world has to offer.
Glass walls effect every area of our lives: our friendships, marriages, parenting, career choices, purchases, etc..but none is more detrimental than the area of relationships. Every relationship decision we make is profoundly effected by our glass walls; who I will and will not associate with and how I will interact with those I do.
“Glass walls limit every area of our lives: our friendships, our marriages, our parenting, our careers…our relationships.”
I remember when I first started working with the homeless I had so much compassion for them. These men and women were either forgotten or ostracized by society. It broke my heart. I thought that I was one of the few people who could really see them for who they were, and I was going to help them. I genuinely had no idea that I was being limited by a glass wall. It wasn’t until a few months in that I really started to see what I had been doing. Our outreaches were based around a mobile soup kitchen. We would set up tables and tents, play music. It was a lot like a weekly block party. One particular location in Harlem, was heavily trafficked by folks struggling with addiction and folks looking to turn
a profit off them. I remember standing there at the end of an outreach and seeing a man pull up in a tricked out BMW. He pulled right up to the back of the bus and jumped out. His cloths were clean an new, his sneakers were spotless (a rarity at our outreaches) and I could see the light reflecting off his watch and his chains from 30 feet away. He went up to the window to get a cup of soup and I remember feeling particularly angry. Who does this guy think he is?!? He doesn’t need this soup! Chances are, he’s part of the problem. Driving a ride like that, with bling like that in this part of Harlem…he’s probably making his money off the misery of “my people”. So I start to walk over to see what is going on when he spots me (we had shirts that clearly indicated us as outreach leaders) and he starts heading my way. At this point I am ready for a confrontation. I’ll tolerate him but if I see any indication that he is trying to sell to anyone he’s gonna have to go. As he gets closer, he extends his had to shake mine. Then he introduces himself and tells me that several years ago he was homeless. He was at the end of his rope, with no where else to turn when he happened to walk into one of our outreaches. He told me that he was treated like a human being for the first time in years. People wanted to know his name and listen to his story. We gave him some soup and some referrals to social services that helped him get back on his feet. Now he has an apartment and a good job. He said he happened to be in the area and figured he’d see if we were still there so he could “get a cup of the soup that changed his life.” My glass wall shattered in an instant. In that moment I realized two things: 1) I had judged him before I even met him as someone who was there to hurt the people I was there to protect. 2) The people I serve are not mine to protect. I had been seeing what I was doing as charity. Me giving to those in need as if I was somehow better than them. In reality, it was communion. I was enjoying relationships with men and women who allowed me into their lives. From that day forward my life was made richer by my relationships with my homeless brothers and sisters. They prayed for and cared for me just like I prayed for and cared for them. We celebrated together and we cried together. We enjoyed community. I began to notice when other glass walls popped up in my life. When preconceptions and fears were keeping me isolated and robbing me of the true joy of living. I also learned a powerful truth: Glass walls may be hard to see, but they are not hard to break through once you know they are there. But how? That question is perfectly answered by a story my wife told about our oldest son Noah:
Yesterday, Noah and I were getting in the car to run to the store, when a teenage boy approached us, almost in tears, explaining that he was lost, didn’t know where he was, and couldn’t figure out how to get home. He couldn’t find anyone who would help him, he kept asking people, but no one would. I immediately start trying to figure out how to help him-where do you live, do you know what it’s near, don’t worry we’ll help you get home, calling Jeff to come out and help him figure out where he needed to go….when I hear Noah yelling from inside the car, “Just ask him his name!” It was such a sweet reminder to me that so many times we see the details-the problem, the solution, the ins and the outs…but God just wants to know us. So many people are hurting, and just need to be known…sure they need help too-but more importantly, they need to be known. God gets that, which is why He calls us by name, and says, even before I formed you, I knew you. No one is invisible to God….or to Noah. So thankful to parent such a special boy, and thankful that he sees his daddy also cares about the things God cares about…because of course, Jeff asked him his name.
The most powerful question you can ever ask is, “What’s your name?” In that one questions we blow past all of the circumstances, the judgments, the fears. In that one question we tell people (and ourselves) that we want to know them. We begin to truly see people for who they are, not who they appear to be through our glass walls. The most amazing thing that happens when we do this is that it bleeds over into other areas in our lives. Our relationship with others are not the only relationships that are effected by glass walls. They also limit our relationship with God and with ourselves. When we begin to seek to truly know others, we begin to seek to truly know God. Not know about Him, but really know Him. We will begin to find all of the things in that relationship that most of us seek out in earthly relationships: comfort, encouragement, peace, acceptance, belonging, etc… We can begin to rely on God as a source of strength and stop seeing Him as some distant figure. He becomes present; He becomes real. That changes everything. It also allows us to begin to do the same thing for ourselves. We stop judging ourselves based on what we see. We set aside the limitations that we have imposed on ourselves either because of fear or some preconceived notion of who we “should” be or what we can or can’t do. Only then do we begin to discover who we actually are and who we were always meant to be.
“It is a journey that will certainly last a lifetime but can begin in an instant.”
Most people who know me know my story. I won’t hash it all out here, but the simple truth is that I lived the first part of my life in a constant cycle of hopelessness and self-loathing. I did things that I never thought I would and always seemed to fall short when I tried to turn my life around until one day, God decided it was over. That is a sever over-simplification but the point is that the man I am today in no way resembles them man I was. I am given the opportunity to speak into peoples lives in powerful and important ways. If you had offered me a snapshot of who I would become back in the day, I would have thought you were crazy. But step by step, day by day and year by year, God has been helping my break through my glass walls and live a life of genuine freedom and happiness. Every time I break through another one, every time I seek to really know someone, I move one step closer to God and ones step closer to the man I was always intended to be. It is a journey that will certainly last a lifetime but can begin in an instant. So what’s you wall?