After working with people for so many years you would think I would have learned this a long time ago: beneath people’s tough exterior is a tender soul.
I’ve too often taken my cues from the rugged, independent, self-sufficient persona both men and women display in the context of church life. We excel in projecting the image that everything is OK and we handling life well. But like a steak that has been seared on the outside for just the right amount of time, we’re still tender and easily cut on the inside.
Forgetting that, I go about my day, not worrying about those who seem to be doing just fine, focusing more on those whose hurts are outward and visible (those who have been burnt, left on the grill too long?)
Until I hear about the hurt that I caused. From them or from someone else. Because I didn’t say anything. Or said something. Or ignored someone. Or teased someone. Or snapped at someone. Or forgot about someone.
So here’s a theory I’ve been tossing around in my mind: the tougher someone seems on the outside, the more tender they tend to be on the inside. They compensate. They’ve been hurt, so they put up their guard. They’ve been disappointed, so they keep their distance. They’re bleeding on the inside, but blood is messy, so they smile that much more. They don’t want to reveal a weakness, so they go out of their way to display grit and determination.
In hindsight, I’ve fallen for and acted on the tough exterior way too many times. It’s a common ailment: “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Lesson learned: treat the toughest, most independent people with greater care. Prescription: pray like a blind beggar sitting by the side of the road, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight” (Mark 10:51).