Chaplain's thought for the week
Looking to the heart
Dame Esther Rantzen, the TV presenter and producer, reflecting on her life last weekend, said that she was very lucky to have launched her career when she did. She considered the fact that a few generations earlier she couldn’t have been so successful as a woman in a male-dominated industry. But equally, if she were starting her career today, she felt that she wouldn’t be ‘pretty enough’. We live in a world in which outward appearance often counts for more than the inner self.
There’s a story from the Old Testament in the Bible in which God sends the prophet Samuel to find a new king. He commands Samuel to go to Bethlehem to the family of Jesse – a man who has a number of sons. Jesse presents his sons to Samuel, and he’s impressed by the first, Eliab. But Samuel feels God say to him, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him for King; for the Lord does not see as mortals see: they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’
Then Jesse calls the next son, Abinadab, and presents him to Samuel. God says, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then the next son, Shammah, is presented. God says, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Eventually, seven of Jesse’s sons are presented to Samuel, but none is chosen. Samuel says to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these. Are all your sons here?’ He responds, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’
Samuel says to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ So the youngest son is sent for, and God says, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’
What do we value in others and ourselves? This story makes the point that the very thing most of us value is what we can judge based upon outward appearance. That’s not just how someone looks or what clothes they wear (though often those things influence our opinions a good deal), but where they go to school, what sort of house they live in, what their CV is like, whether or not they are sporty or musical or talented in other ways, what they do for a living, how funny, intelligent and socially skilled they are. The list goes on…
From a very young age children are given the impression that their value comes from the way they look, how they perform, and how successful they are. As we grow up we spend much of our time trying to be impressive – trying to make sure that all of the things others see makes us likeable – so that we can feel good about ourselves.
The point that this story makes is that God doesn’t see things like this. God doesn’t look at the outward appearance – all of that stuff we accumulate and aspects of our character designed to fit in – but instead looks at the heart. God look beyond the False Self with all of its layers created to please others right into our hearts, where our True Self is. Even if you don’t believe in God, one of the most important tasks for us as humans is that we uncover out True Self and learn to be ok with who we are.
Perhaps we can also help others make this journey by looking to the heart in all of our interactions rather than to outward appearance. That means that we need to reserve judgement about other people until we know them; it means that we’ll be willing to listen to another person’s story to find out where they’re coming from, looking for qualities which lie beneath the surface level.
Can we build a world in which people are valued for who they are rather than outward appearance?