The other night I was driving to pick up some food. By the way, isn’t it wonderful that we can do that? Pick up food? But I digress.
As I wove my way through the shopping area to reach my destination, I slowed for a couple headed into PetSmart to cross the street. The woman slowed her walk and turned toward me, directly addressing my car.
“Driving a little fast weren’t you?”
Her face was dark with internal rage, her eyes accusing me. She caught up to her husband and they reached the sidewalk. I couldn’t really hear her clearly, so I pulled up beside them and rolled down my window.
“Pardon? What did you say?”
Her body language reeked with anger.
“You could have hit us! Watch how you drive!”
I smiled and told her to have a good night, blessed her, and rolled up my window. I drove away, confused about our exchange. There was so much hate rolling around in her, so much offense. She was upset at something I couldn’t understand or recognize. I had slowed down for them to cross – perhaps not at the exact speed she preferred – but they were safely crossing the street.
I began to feel a little anger myself, a little offense at her unfair treatment. I didn’t deserve it! Why was she…
But then, as I pulled into the parking space, I realized.
It wasn’t personal.
There was something going on with that woman – something I didn’t know about or realize.
And it had absolutely nothing to do with me.
Her anger came from a deeper place. Somewhere deeper than the feelings she displayed at the surface. She was hurting about something. Something I would probably never know about or understand. And my response – my smile, my kindness, was all I could have done in that situation.
So I put the van in park and prayed for her. Her sadness, her hurt, whatever was lying deep beneath the surface of her response to me. And then I reminded myself that everyone has deeper stuff below the initial response.
Maybe her mom was dying of cancer.
Maybe her son wasn’t behaving at home.
Maybe she didn’t feel loved by her husband.
Maybe she was lonely.
Maybe she was nervous around cars because something else had happened years before.
None of these theories would excuse her behavior, but they would certainly explain them.
And then I thought how maybe I could have asked her what was wrong. Maybe I could have pulled over my car, parked, and run inside to find her. Maybe I could have helped somehow. But I let myself get wrapped up in the moment, the hurt, the unfairness of it all.
Instead of being offended by offensive behavior, I need to look beneath the surface. Ask beneath the surface. Consider beneath the surface.
As a teacher of 18 years, I have to remind myself daily that it isn’t personal. Students have so much more going on than just school. Teachers have so much more going on than school. We all do. And don’t we want that same grace offered to us?
How our world would change if we would remember that it’s not always personal, and then offer grace. How many more people would be given the gift of kindness? How many more would reciprocate love instead of hate? I would guess a lot more.
And it starts with me.
Carrie’s book, Choose: An Invitation to the Best Day Ever Adventure, is a book that gives you 21 challenges to CHOOSE in order to live the John 10:10 life – full and abundant. Pick it up on Amazon today!