“‘As I washed my face before bed one evening, I heard a commercial for Tide laundry detergent, and was struck when a man’s voice said, “All they see is the stain.’”
“Whoa,” I thought. “That’s heavy.” Indeed, such philosophical truth from a detergent commercial. Once we notice a stain on someone, it’s hard to not stare. That’s the reality of the human condition in terms of external appearances. How much truer is it for personalities, life choices, and what side of the tracks we grew up on?
The stain was immediately visible to me and impossible to ignore when I looked at my brother, like the flash of a hazard light. I found it difficult to see beyond the stain of his alcoholism. I needed to look past the pasta sauce on his shirt and see the person inside.
It took a laundry detergent commercial to open my eyes to my shortsightedness. I saw the stain in front of me, zeroed in on its details, and lost sight of the big picture. I had a huge plank in my eye, while all along I had chosen to focus on and critique the sawdust I’d found in my brother’s eye.
My shortsighted tendencies crippled my ability to see him altogether, to see him as a person. While he faced addiction, in the earlier years I treated him like a problem to be dealt with instead of someone with a life-threatening disease. I reacted with a quick temper, angered, and as a recorder of his wrongs. But when I look at him as a person, see the whole of who he is and was, not just the stain and not just a disease, that’s when gentleness and compassion come. I needed to look past the pasta sauce on his shirt and see the person inside. I don’t get angry with him—with Satan, yes, but him, no—and work instead on the plank in my eye.”
This is an excerpt from my book, “Ascent to Hope: The Rugged Climb from Fear to Faith.” Over the last several weeks I have been leading a small group book study on Ascent to Hope. The title of this chapter in Ascent to Hope is called “Stains and Labels.” This chapter was one of the most difficult to work through and allow God access to my heart to change me.
Society tells us that we have the ability, maybe even the right, to judge others different than us or those who seem weaker, those less fortunate or those with a more visible struggle than us. This judgement has little to do with the other person struggling but has everything to do with our own desire to voice “we are better” or “more put together” or “at least we don’t struggle with that.” Alcoholism and addiction carry stigmas that need to be looked past, and overturned. But isn’t it ironic (don’t ya think… :)) that society glorifies drinking and numbing out but then vilifies those who are overcome by the behavior.
The truth is, we all struggle with something/s. We are all in need of a God sized intervention in our lives to save us from a life that leads only to darkness and death. Jesus is our common bond, our common ground. He is all each of us need, and he is the only one who can draw us out of the darkness and give us life eternal. Jesus is the stone that shatters the stigma and exposes the hurting heart in each of us that needs the loving embrace of a gracious Savior.
The fear of judgement from others keeps up trapped in secret and we avoid the help we need. The struggles faced in this life often come with the weight of societal STIGMA. Just like is described in the excerpt from Ascent to Hope, see, point out and judge the shirt STAINS others wear, instead of seeing the hurting person wearing the shirt with stains. We find the stain more interesting to pick apart than the effort it takes to acknowledge the aching of the heart the stain is shielding. Lord help us to not keep our eyes on the stains and stigma, but to see the man or woman who is aching and in desperate need of you.
Lord help us. I don’t know about you, but I am sick of stigmas. I am sick of causing more hurt for others instead of help.
I looked up the definition of stigma to gain some additional clarity on this topic. From dictionary.com the definitions of stigma are: “a mark of disgrace; a stain or reproach of one’s reputation.” Synonyms for stigma are: stain, blame, blemish, blot, brand, disgrace, dishonor, disfigurement.”
The reality of human life on this earth is that we are all blemished. We all were born into this world with a sin nature. So when we see sin, or stain or blemishes, we should not be surprised. And we need not be self-righteous because we too wear stain covered clothes.
Isn’t it interesting that the apostle John says, “But if we are living in the light of God’s presence, just as Christ does, then we have wonderful fellowship and joy with each other, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from every sin.”? (1 John 1:7 TLB)
There is a cause and effect reaction here. IF we live in the light – the TRUTH – and do not hide in the dark – THEN we have fellowship with one another, AND we are cleansed. It seems so opposite to how we think. We believe that if we expose the truth and mess of who we are we will be cast off. And maybe that might be the reaction of some people – which is their problem to work through – not ours. Ours is to be obedient. To live in the LIGHT of TRUTH and in doing so eliminate the threat of stigma and step into fellowship with others who were and are stained.
The moments when I have had the courage to raise my hand and say, “I am struggling, and I need help,” I have been met with support, resources, prayer and encouragement. It is getting over the fear of the stigma that allows the opportunity to be helped. And guess what. It’s okay to need help. It’s okay to be the one who needs prayers, resources and encouragement. We want to be in the position of always being the giver of help. That looks and feels like a more secure place to be. But honestly, it is the times in my life when I have admitted I need help that I feel most secure, because it causes me to find rest in the loving, comforting arms of my Jesus.
Hope Seeker, I ask you today, have you been avoiding asking for help because of the stigma that surrounds your need? Have you cast judgment on another because of the stigma in your own mind for the problem they are walking through? What if you loving arms around them will give them courage to get the help they need? What if your encouragement will lead another to freedom because you chose to see beyond the stain to the heart of the person and treat them as a person, not a problem?
What if when you raise your hand and say, “I need help” you find just what you have been looking for all along – truth, hope, comfort, peace, healing and restoration. What if we are confronted with a stigma and are moved with compassion on the one who is bearing the stain – remembering our stains were washed white as snow.
I want to leave you today with the promise given to us in Isaiah, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson,They shall be as wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18 NKJV) Thanks be to God we can live washed, all our stains and stigmas made as pure white snow.