I knew coming into college that I would meet many people from every type of background there is. I didn’t know that I would discover how large the scope of that background is so soon.
Maybe the cause for this is the activity we did at this past week’s mandatory meeting for one of the programs I’m in. Usually during the two-hour meeting, one of the departments on campus gives a presentation and the program mentors perform an activity with the whole group.
This week, a thin line of string was placed on the ground, the white material stark against the grey carpet. After one of the mentors told us that this activity was a serious one and that no one could talk or laugh at all, he then led us through a series of questions. If a question pertained to us, then we had to step over that line, turn around, and face the rest of the group—face them as who we truly are.
We didn’t have to step over if we weren’t comfortable with putting ourselves out there, but what I saw blew me away.
“Do you consider yourself religious?”
“Do you consider yourself agnostic/atheist?”
“Have you ever had low self-esteem?”
“Have you ever felt lonely?”
“Are your parents divorced/separated?”
“Have one of your parents died?”
“Have you had to care for a younger or older family member?”
“Have you ever had to live independently of your parents?”
“Have you considered dropping out of college by this point?”
“Have you had suicidal thoughts?”
“Did you experience a home wrought with drugs and/or alcohol?”
“Do or have you considered yourself unattractive?”
You get the point by now. These were just some of the questions I remember. Some of them weren’t as deep, but that doesn’t change the fact that we got to know a lot about each other. The people that I pinned as happy, go-lucky people—the ones that were quick to befriend everyone in the group—stepped over the line when asked about being lonely or having low self-esteem or feeling physically unattractive. The people I thought whose lives were so well put-together because they themselves were so well put-together crossed that tiny string on the ground when asked about coming from a broken home or having suicidal thoughts.
I always knew there were people out there struggling with such things—but it was shocking to see that people who were standing within ten, fifteen feet of me had experienced the things that never seemed to touch most of the homes in my small hometown.
That one blinking light dangling over the center of our town seemed to keep the worst of the world out, it seems. That yellow, blinking light that swings in the passing wind.
But what made this activity all that much more incredible was the fact that we didn’t judge one another. We had embraced the other person for who they were even before we had this activity—since we had first met a month and a half ago at BearKat Camp.
We didn’t judge when only one person stepped over the line on one question. We didn’t judge when people admitted that they struggled with suicidal thoughts or low self-esteem. We didn’t judge when people claimed they were Democrats, Republicans, and feminists.
Who we saw were just human beings. Who we saw were 29 other freshmen, three other college students, and the program coordinator—all of us Sam Houston Bearkats wanting to change the world.
What really drove this lesson home for me occurred just yesterday when I went to visit one of my friend’s dorm rooms. She had recently told me about a paper that she wrote for English, and she told me this with pride because her professor had emailed her saying that she had done a great job on her personal narrative.
She let me read it, and right as I was nearing the end, I was ashamed of myself.
Most of the details of her narrative I knew. But there were a few that I had never been told, and that’s what really got to me.
Here I was—a self-righteous jerk—thinking that I had the right to judge her because I believed some of her details were “off.” And honestly, I’ve thought that for a while now. It’s not that I think my friend is a liar. I just thought she would exaggerate things to a point where they really weren’t as bad as she was making them out to be. And don’t get me wrong—some of the things she went through were horrific. I wouldn’t wish them upon anybody, even my worst enemy.
But I didn’t go through those things. I didn’t have the right to judge.
I finished reading her paper and I felt horrible.
God is teaching me that each person I encounter is His child. He loves them, and because He does, I should, too.
I shouldn’t judge. I shouldn’t talk behind their back. I shouldn’t ridicule them.
I should love them. Because that’s how we shine God’s light—shining love into the darkness of other’s lives.
Will I ever get over judging and slapping labels on others? Probably not. Will I ever not feel horrible about this? No.
But maybe due to these lessons God has taught me this past week, I’ll see that embracing our diversity is a beautiful thing—a gift that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Maybe I’ll see that while I’m different in my own unique way, I struggle with my own demons, just like everyone else.
Maybe I’ll finally see that even though I’m a shy, self-conscious person, I can be the total opposite at times.
But through that shame, I can rest in the fact that God still loves me—He always has and always will. And that, thank goodness, will never change.