I Am a Stranger
Who is a stranger? What constitutes a stranger? My husband was once a stranger. My now dearest friends were once strangers to me.
Our missionary mailed his first missionary journal home to us this last week. As I eagerly read through his experiences, I am amazed at the many tender relationships he has developed! In only five short months in the area he has been serving, he has gained friendships that have deeply impacted him.
I nod and wave in friendly acknowledgement to my neighbors I have lived by for over ten years, and occasionally we’ll chat about this and that, but I don’t have the depth of love my son expresses for those he has only been teaching and serving for five short months!
Why is this? I think it’s because I mentally separate myself from other people. I think all of us do this. We create barriers in our minds with those we interact with. Why? To prevent the other person from hurting us! All of us have been hurt in relationships, so to protect ourselves from more hurt, we mentally create a barrier of protection—stranger danger mentality. That person is different from ‘self’ therefore, they could hurt ‘self’, so let’s protect ‘self’ from the stranger.
True. Others do hurt us. However, I also hurt myself, almost on a daily basis. That goal to lose 20 pounds? Yeah, eating pizza last night (and again for lunch today) isn’t going to help with that. I hurt my best intentions in a moment of weakness.
However, I didn’t realize that following my daughter’s doctor’s appointment regarding a health difficulty, I’d be feeling like a truck ran over me, backed up over me, and ran over me again. Several times. Finding the mental fortitude to eat a salad just wasn’t in me.
I am a stranger to myself in many ways because I have not yet met myself in every situation.
The fact is, none of us know ourselves in every possible situation. Do you know yourself if you were at the Queen of England’s dining table? I don’t. Never been there. The point is, there are a million different life situations that I have NEVER been in, so I just don’t know myself in those situations.
So, if I don’t even know myself in every possible scenario life could throw at me, how can I possibly trust someone else? This is why, to protect ‘self’, we create barriers, based upon assumptions, between ourselves and others.
In a recent TED Talk, Pope Francis addresses the desperate need for us to reach out more and make connections with others in meaningful ways. “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.
How wonderful would it be if solidarity—this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word—were not simply reduced to social work and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples, and countries.”
How do we overcome this understandable and natural tendency to create barriers and to mentally classify someone as a stranger? How do we follow Pope Francis’s advice to see the needs in those around us? My son’s mission experience gives the answer.
An act of kindness dispels the differences between us and dissolves the boundaries we put between us.
When we reach out in love and service even in the smallest ways, hearts are changed and softened as others feel the love of the Lord. My son has gained so many deep relationships because his entire focus is on serving and loving the other person in the relationship.
Our son has had struggles in relationships—times when the other person was hurtful and unkind. Yet, as I read of his struggles, he continually writes, “It’s not about me. I am praying that I will love them and see them as God does.” There are days upon days of him writing of his personal pain dealing with difficulties in relationships followed by his determination to love and serve that person, no matter what.
The relationships don’t always turn into friendships, yet my son still grew as a person. He has become slower to judge and more quick to serve. And this desire to love others as the Savior does has added a depth to his character as a man. He is learning to treat others with more patience, more kindness, and more tolerance.
Let’s each of us stop the mental judging of one another. Let’s take a step forward, trusting God to guide our words and our actions as we act with love.
Let’s try to see beyond the surface and see the burdens each person is carrying, and look for a way to lift them. Let’s try to see beyond the immediate first impression for the spiritual impression, and act upon the second.
Let’s greet each other, not as strangers, but instead as friends yet to be made!
Growing up as the oldest of 8 kids and living all over the world gave Emlee Taylor an opportunity to see the incredible differences the Lord created in humanity; and even better, the passions we all share as members of the human race: love for family, faith, & a desire to make a difference. Emlee lives life with passion—focusing her time now on raising four children and teaching them to recognize truth and to live true to that truth, regardless of others’ expectations. Life can be confusing and overwhelming, but if her children learn to step back, remember their convictions and their personal truth—then they will be able to prioritize and move forward. Emlee is passionately in love with her bestest friend and husband of almost 20 years. They were college sweethearts and enjoy exploring nature, good food, and culture together. Emlee graduated with a bachelor’s in English, and currently works as a volunteer in public relations for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.