I became familiar with National Dr. Seuss day when my mom was a principal. I thought it was weird that local celebrities or leaders in the community would drop in on an elementary school classroom to read a Dr. Seuss book to a bunch of kids.
Then this year, Ellia participated in her first National Dr. Seuss day. And I was asked to come and read to the greatest and most energetic first grade class that has ever existed. I read The Sneetches—a book about a group of creatures who were divided by the star or lack of star on their bellies. I figured it would be a good time to address any bullies or pint-sized racists that might be in the room. The inferior Sneetches pay money to try to look like the esteemed Sneetches by either getting a star stamped on their bellies or having a star removed. In the end, all of the Sneetches are exhausted from using all their resources to try to be better than each other.
I don’t know why I couldn’t just read the book like a normal person. Instead, I took it upon myself to interject social commentary. I wanted to make sure the 6 and 7 year olds understood the implications for their own interpersonal relationships. It’s obvious I shouldn’t work with children.
I finally left after launching a lengthy monologue about how no one is better than anyone else and our differences are to be celebrated.
On the way home, I thought about our efforts as parents or people over 12 to build a generation that disdains intolerance.
But tolerance is a small goal. Tolerance is an okay starting place. It keeps us from saying mean things or ostracizing the other, but tolerance is not love.
Accepting people’s differences—this is a bit better. We can argue that acceptance would diminish unnecessary conflict or the deep wounds we inflict. But it’s still not the full picture of love.
Love includes tolerance and acceptance, but the work of love reaches farther than walking side-by-side those around us. Loving requires us to see others. Loving people doesn’t mean blindly engaging in relationships. Love asks that we truly see the people standing in front of us or behind us or next to us.
Our culture doesn’t need more people to tolerate others—it needs more people who are willing to see others.
To see a person is to value that person. When we see others, we not only accept them but we also affirm them. It’s a move away from self-centered acts of love so we can free people to be who they were created to be.
The people I encounter every single day are people who are desperate to be seen. They want to know what it’s like to be known. It’s a shame-busting, courage-giving kind of love.
Seeing people offers them an invitation to shine—it’s making room for others’ gifts and talents and passions to push through concrete and grow in the light.
And we can only do this as those who are seen. We have to agree to embrace the reality of our identity as those who belong to the God who loves. The God who loves us is the God who sees us. We’re not tolerated. We’re not just accepted. We’re loved as those fully known. Our failings and flaws are no threat to this love.
Loving people doesn’t mean we look past the mistakes, the addictions, the bad decisions or annoying personalities. It means we see people as more than that with which they struggle. And when we do this, we invite others to do the same. We invite people to look beyond their fears and sin and recognize their deep value.
When we love others, we don’t necessarily give them anything. Instead, we draw out the light that’s already within—we fuel a flame that already burns. Our love reminds people that they have great worth and that today can be different than yesterday.
This is something tolerance will never do. Tolerance can’t impart bravery.
But seeing people can.
Hagar was Abraham’s mistress. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, forced Hagar to sleep with her husband in an attempt to gain a child through Hagar. When the child was born, Sarah abused Hagar and she ran away.
God found her by a well. He spoke to her as one who knew her—he knew where she’d come from and why she was crying.
And she said to this God, “You are the God who sees.”
God is a seeing God. He knows where we’ve come from and he knows why we’re crying.
And to love others means we’re willing to do the same.