What do you do when someone just bugs the stuffing out of you? You know the person I’m talking about…you work with her or he coaches the little league team. Something about them just makes you crazy! I mean really crazy. What do you do when that person lives next door or teaches your child? What do you do when you have to find a way to get along with them and you just can’t find anything to like or appreciate?
I have a secret weapon in these situations. It’s not fail proof, but it works more often than not. Get ready, because you’re probably not going to like it, but it might just change your life. Here goes – In situations like this you have to get closer to that person – not pull away like we all want to do. You have to get close enough to find out their story.
Let me explain. Ten years ago I met a woman at church. She was from Iraq. Everything about her was different than me except that we both had dark hair and strong personalities. Simply put, she rubbed me the wrong way. She was hard and opinionated. Her English was limited, and she came off as aloof. She clashed with many of the women because of her manner. I was willing to like her, but I didn’t understand her and I found myself pulling away. But this was church, so I figured I better try – right?
As time went on, I had opportunity to be around her more. Little by little I realized that there was much more to her than I had first assumed. I got up the courage to reach out to her and we started spending time together. Gradually, as I showed interest and gained her trust, she started to share her life story with me. Let me give you a few of the “highlights.”
She grew up during the war with Iran and was trained in how to kill as a child. She witnessed hangings and murders in her village as ordered by Saddam Hussein. She told me that this kind of childhood gives you a lust for blood and that she had fought and injured someone when she was young – narrowly escaping prison. There were long periods of time when the only thing she had to eat were onions and tomatoes – some people in her family nearly starved. She had family members who were murdered by Hussein for refusing to fight. During the war she and her best friend were caught in crossfire. Her friend was shot and died in her arms. To this day, after years of being in America, she still couldn’t sleep at night because of all the bombings she endured in Iraq. Once a bomb had shattered glass in her room and almost killed her. She had become a Christian in Iraq and suffered unimaginable things as a result, not to mention being rejected by her family. Her story went on and on…..
Suddenly, everything made sense. This woman had endured things I could not even get my brain around. No wonder she was tough and opinionated. No wonder she was hard to get to know. No wonder I couldn’t relate to her. When I heard her story and connected with her life, I was able to appreciate her and even love her – which is exactly what she needed. We became close friends and she taught me much. She understood life in a way I did not, and she knew what was really important. I saw that, while different, we were also very much the same. We laughed and cried and longed for the same kinds of things with the same kind of passion.
My friend taught me that to assume things about someone without knowing their story is to judge a book by its cover. In doing this, you may miss out on the best read of your life and lose an opportunity to make a lasting friend. The truth is that somehow – we are all connected. There is something in that annoying person that is strikingly similar to you. If nothing else, you are both human and long to be loved and understood. Next time you want to run from someone, try the opposite tact – try getting closer. Challenge yourself to uncover their story and see if you don’t find something that merits your appreciation or even respect. It’s all in their story.
“Goodness loves your story.”
A “Good” Idea:
Look at the people in your life who bother or offend you. Pick out one of them and create a strategy to move closer. See if you can learn more about them – look for clues to their story and ask them a simple question to invite conversation. Take a chance and see if something good happens. It’s what Goodness would do.