Square Pegs

 

 

 

 I have a long way to go in my quest to see things (and people) as God does.  I was  playing some pick-up basketball with a group of young singles at our church.  A young man I had never seen before showed up for our gym night.  He knew a couple of the guys.  Gerald (I’ll call him) seemed a bit awkward.  I had him pegged as a guy who really thought much of himself as an athlete.  He was in decent basketball shape–tall (a half-foot taller than I), slender, not too thin.  He dressed the part.  I didn’t know the guy, but I thought I did.  I knew guys like him.  They come out to a friendly game of basketball and want to dominate.  You want to tell them, “Chill out, Dude, we are just here to have fun.”

He was out of control.  He jumped on my back and shoved me and others a number of times in his quest to rebound the ball.  He made a nuicance of himself and a danger to others.  I thought it time to say something to him.  I didn’t say it in a nice way.  Rather, I demonstrated on him what he had been doing to me.  My demonstration became too demonstrative.  He took offense.  In fact he was ready to “throw down” with me.  Of course I took the spiritual route and told him we were not going there and if he had a problem he could leave.  He got even more offended and began to mock, saying things like, “Oh, I see, it is all my fault.  You started it.  You pushed me.  Oh, because I’m the outsider, I am wrong and you are right.”  It got ugly.

He started to leave. I began to realize what I had done.  I had really hurt this young man whom I didn’t know.  I had no idea of his spiritual state and I was about to let him walk out on us in disgust.  I couldn’t allow that if I had any power to change it. 

I followed him.  “Gerald, please don’t leave.”

“I’m going!”

“Please stay and talk.”

“Why?  You are right and I am wrong.”

I followed him out the door imploring him not to leave like that.  After he was out of earshot and view of the rest of the group he mellowed out.  The beautiful fall evening allowed us to spend plenty of time out on the church steps talking through his issues.

What I mistook as a young man with a chip on his shoulder with something to prove, turned out to be, well, a young man with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.  But it was totally different in light of his life experience.  “Things always go like this for me,” he told me.  “I always end up looking like the bad guy.  I don’t fit in anywhere.”  He told me he knew he was not a very good basketball player.  The reason he played so aggressively was that is how everyone played at another church group he played with.  When he couldn’t catch a pass that was too fast it hit him in the face.  Everyone thought it was funny.  People made fun and laughed at him.  The wound was deep, but very near the surface.  Yes, he was trying to prove something.  He wanted to prove he could fit in somewhere if given a chance. 

Gerald had the honesty to tell me he was not a Christian.  He said the reason he was not is because of people like me and the rest of the hypocrites in there.  Ouch!  I apologized for my part in the incident and assured him that while we were not perfect or even nearing it, we were not judgmental as he charged.  I said it hoping it were true, even believing it.  But I understand that my reality is not his.  He sees with different eyes.  He sees looks of judgment boring in on him.  Perception, for the perciever, is reality.  I also told him that it was one of the most honest things I have heard anyone say when he told me he was not a Christian.  Many would fake it for the group.  He made no pretense.

We had a long conversation in which he reluctantly revealed to me that he had very poor eyesight.  He could not drive because of it.  That is why it was hard for him to see a basketball passed too fast.  It made him feel like a bit of a freak.  “I can’t even take a girl out,” he told me.  “How could I take someone out without being able to drive?”  I tried to assure him that that was not such a big deal.  He was having none of that.  “You don’t live in my world.  It is a big deal.”  I guess it is.

My conduct had confirmed the judgement he pronounced on himself a hundred times over, “I don’t belong anywhere.”  The square peg kept moving from round hole to round hole hoping one would open up a little wider to make room for him.  This hole was closed too.  We were–I was–telling him, “You don’t belong here either.  Why don’t you leave.”  The thought crushed me.  I would never say that to anyone.  Not intentionally.  He heard the message loud and clear.

He allowed me to pray with him.  I poured my heart out for Gerald, that he would find his way to God and find a place where he could connect in community with others.  I believe he was grateful.  We left with a better understanding of one another.  I gave him my phone number to call me.  He said he would remember it.  He couldn’t put it in his cell phone for some reason I didn’t understand.  I suspect because he couldn’t see well enough.  I haven’t heard from him since.  I do believe we left as friends.  I know that I was altered because of the meeting. 

I read recently how God changes us through our interaction with others.  He changed me through Gerald.  Gerald was very touchy and overly aggressive.  But now I understand how he arrived there.  I understand the reason for the chip on his shoulder.  I hope I have learned not to prejudge people.  I want to see others as God sees them, and love them with that same unconditional love.  I pray that Gerald does not reject my God for my insensitivity.  I am reminded of the Scripture, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with himility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself…” (Philippians 2:3).  Indeed!

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