We all have made some poor choices that we would love to have a redo if we could. Sometimes these choices come with greater consequences than others. For some, the bad choices come to define their life. For example, if someone is a drug addict or has spent many years in prison, they are defined in society by their status as an addict or prisoner.
Like it or not, that’s often the reality. But what if we could change that? How could we do that? That’s what I want us to think about a little more.
There isn’t any denying that we all make mistakes, use bad judgment from time to time, and just make some poor choices. But sometimes when we see others, especially those in which it is very apparent that their life hasn’t turned out well, we only see the poor choices they make. That is, when we encounter an alcoholic living on welfare, we only see someone who has made a choice to get drunk every day rather than getting a job. We could describe any number of different circumstances that people live in but the way we see them would likely still be for the poor choices they’re are making.
Enter into the conversation the story of a prostitute. She’s obviously made some poor choices right? Well, yesterday while attending a meeting for the Howard County Task Force on Human Trafficking, I listened to the story of a survivor… a woman who is a victim of human trafficking, who was a former prostitute. It was nice to hear the story of her recovery and the strides she is making towards living a fully functional life. But as I listened I also heard the story of a girl who was eleven when she was molested by an uncle and the story of a girl who was just a teenager when a man took her into his house, first caring for her needs which was all a facade to make her more dependent so that he could use violence and drugs to control her and force her to make him money as a prostitute.
It reminds me years ago of meeting a woman in Memphis who was dying with AIDS. That woman grew up in rural Arkansas and came to Memphis in order to catch a bus bound for Los Angeles. She never made it out of Memphis, as drugs had their hold on her life. She started using drugs as a young teenager when her step-dad, who had already been molesting her, started giving her drugs to mask the physical pain endured as he sold her out to some friends.
That’s pretty horrid to comprehend but there’s a point why we need to hear stories like this. Such stories remind us that no matter how poor choices people make for themselves, if we’ll take the time to listen and dig a little deeper then we’ll uncover the many poor choices that someone else made against these people. In other words, when we hear the story of a teenage child being forced into prostitution, on some level we must begin to ask if such a person ever had a choice? When we encounter a homeless veteran who’s ailing from physical and mental health issues because of the injuries suffered during war, we might see beyond whatever choice he or she is making because we know there is more to the story.
But here’s my point. It’s too easy to make judgments about others based solely on what we see when there’s often so much more to the story that we don’t know… And that we won’t know if we’re not willing to listen first and understand rather than passing judgment. So maybe we could recognize that there’s always more to the story than meets the eye, as the saying goes.
And that’s how we’ll change the reality of a world where people are often defined by the poor choices they make. Instead of passing judgment, we can see people through the lens of the gospel and create a new world where people are defined by the image of God they have been created in and the image of Christ God is redeeming them to bear.
How beautiful of a world that will be!