This week I’m attending a conference in Los Angeles. It’s been a good opportunity to get out of my routine and hear what God is doing in other parts of the country - and so I’ve been encouraged by the time here. But it’s also been fun because I’m a former Southern Californian, so it’s been good to get back to my old stomping grounds.
Yesterday over the lunch break, the organizers of the conference took us to Venice Beach. If you’ve never been there, it’s a historic beach community that is probably best known for being home to Muscle Beach - the place where men and women lift weights, and where the body builder-turned actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger first got his start in America. Over the years, Venice Beach has become home to the alternative community as well, and so when you walk down the boardwalk, you will see all sorts of people mingling with all sorts of other people. The result is that this particular stretch of Los Angeles beach has become quite the tourist attraction.
It’s always been one of my favorite beaches, because I love to people watch - so I was excited for the opportunity to go there yesterday. As we were walking down the boardwalk - enjoying the sunshine and the ocean views - I couldn’t help but notice the number of homeless folks lining the side of the boardwalk. They were all ages and races - and a majority had set up makeshift tents, or cardboard shelters lining the beach side of the boardwalk. On the other side of the boardwalk, strolled all sorts of affluent tourists. So it was like two completely different worlds were co-existing only four feet away from each other.
But the thing that really stood out to me was how hard the tourists were trying to avoid looking at the homeless folks. It was almost as if they thought, “If I don’t see those homeless people, then they don’t exist - and I can enjoy my vacation.” Obviously, I don’t know for sure if that’s what they were thinking, but it’s what it seemed like to me, based on the way they studiously avoided looking at, or making eye contact with, the folks camped out just a few feet from them.
As I walked along observing this, I was reminded of the fact that one of our basic human needs is to be seen, or acknowledged. Whether it’s at school, or at work, or in a social gathering, we hate to be overlooked or disregarded. And the reason I think we hate that is because it communicates that we’re not important, or that we don’t bring value to the world around us. As I pondered all of that yesterday, it broke my heart to think that these homeless folks were probably living day in and day out feeling like they were not being seen because they have no value to the world around them. And the reason it broke my heart is because it’s not true. These folks do have value, because just like you and me and all those tourists - those homeless folks were made in God’s image. They are part of His loving creation and design, and because of that one single fact, they have value to God - which means they should have value to us.
The apostle John helps us understand this concept of being valuable to God in John 3:16, where he writes: “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” God sees us, and He values us - and because of that, He sent His Son to save us. All of us. Me - you - those tourists - and those homeless folks. And He wants us to respond to what He did by loving Him, and then loving others. And loving others begins by actually seeing them - and seeing that they have value to God. So even if they’ve made terrible decisions in life, even if they’ve done terrible things, and even if they’re smelly and dirty - they still have value to God, which means they should have value to us.
But the truth is, it’s not just homeless folks we have trouble seeing- it can be other people we have in our daily lives. It might be folks we don’t agree with, or folks who irritate us, or folks who have hurt us, or folks that we don’t think bring any value to our life because they don’t help us get ahead at work, or make us more popular at school. And so we act as if they don’t exist. We come and go, and pass them in the halls and on the street, and refuse to see them. But yesterday, as I watched the tourists and homeless folks, I was reminded that we just can’t do that. Everyone has value to God - and therefore, everyone deserves to be loved by us. And that love begins with us seeing them. It begins with us acknowledging them, and by doing so, admitting that everyone created by God has value.
So today, let’s ask God to help us see the people around us with His eyes. Let’s ask Him to help us remember that we’re all made in His image, and He sent His Son to die for all of us. And then with those things in mind, let’s ask God to help us see and love the people in our lives the same way He sees and loves us.