Taking a second look at first impressions.
Juaquin wandered out of the patch of forest behind our house in Canada’s Yukon Territory, looking like a vagabond. He wore baggy pants, a crumpled shirt, and stringless runners. A large floppy hat covered his frizzy brown hair and half of his face.
The boy’s body was too small and his vocabulary too big for a four-year-old. I wanted to meet his mother.
I saw her for the first time from my kitchen window. Dressed in blue jeans and flannel shirt, she was pulling a child’s wagon loaded with groceries, laundry, and a baby. I could easily picture her living in the house up the hill. According to my boys’ report, it was a two-room cabin with no running water or indoor plumbing. Its outhouse, woodpile, and small garden gave one the feeling of walking back in time.
I knew the man of the house had been a trapper and wore his long hair in a ponytail. It wasn’t hard for me to draw conclusions. They were probably the hippie type, I figured. Maybe not even married. No doubt poor — and unsociable.
One day as the young mother pulled her wagon past my window, I decided to get acquainted. Slipping off my apron, I hurried out the kitchen door.
“I’ve wanted to get to know you,” she told me after I introduced myself. “I guess I didn’t want to come in dressed like this. But then, I always look this way!”
I got to know Cherry better — and discovered I was all wrong. She was the town’s head librarian and a young Christian. Her husband had given up trapping temporarily to earn a good salary at a sawmill. Their savings would help them live comfortably when he returned to the trap lines.
“We don’t want to get too many modern conveniences,” Cherry once said with a chuckle. “It would spoil me for when we return to the bush.”
We became friends. She gave us lettuce and spinach from her garden, and we hooked up a hose from our house to hers so her family could have running water. Before they left to live in the Yukon wilderness, Cherry gave me her houseplants.
I would have missed a wonderful friendship had I chosen to ignore the “hippies up the hill” because of my first impressions!
Losing the labels
Let’s face it. Our initial impressions of someone can take on the form of instant judging. That’s why Jesus warns us, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1).
Labeling is bad business spiritually, especially if our judgments are negative. We may actually be thinking lies. Sometimes these untruths will keep us from associating with certain people, causing us to miss opportunities to love them for Jesus’ sake.
We have a responsibility as Christ-followers to be gracious and accepting toward strangers and others we meet for the first time. I suggest the following:
Give them the benefit of the doubt. Paul admonishes Christians to fix their thoughts on what is true and good and right: “If there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8). How many people have you rejected because they seemed unfriendly or because of what they were wearing? And how many people have you accepted because they smiled at you or because they seemed your type?
Remember, think about what is true. It is virtually impossible to guess the truth at first glance — or during the first conversation.
Think about their positive qualities. Many people sit on the sidelines because they have left poor impressions on others. I remember one young woman who sat by herself in church each week because she was too shy to make friends. I avoided her, since I knew I would have to initiate and carry most of the conversation. Eventually I invited her to go with me to a weekly prayer group.
At first I dreaded our little treks across town. But as we got better acquainted, it became easier to talk. She was soon sharing with me her ambitions and dreams. I’m glad I made the effort to become her friend.
Don’t gossip about first impressions. I sat on the beach one summer watching my children play in the water and sand. Next to me sat a woman I had met briefly before. We both watched as an attractive blond gathered up her gear and called her children.
“She’s a real snob,” my companion commented. “She won’t talk to me. I’m sure she thinks she’s better than I am.”
“Maybe she’s shy,” I offered. Although I tried to defend the blond, I never forgot the other woman’s comments about her. Whenever someone mentioned that lady, I had a tendency to think of her as a snob.
The Bible teaches us to “speak every man truth with his neighbour” (Ephesians 4:25). It’s been said that more people have been ruined by rumors than by the truth.
Depend on the Spirit to guide your thoughts. If you are a Christian, the Spirit of truth is dwelling in you (John 14:17). He can reveal things you may never discover without His help.
The poet J. G. Whittier once wrote, “Man judges from a partial view.” Only God knows the whole.