I walked down the pavement amazed. My boots created their own bass as they strutted down the cobblestone sidewalk. Men and women alike dressed as though they had just stepped off of the runway weaved effortlessly with purpose to their destination. Squealing children gripped the hands of their guardians as they followed along. The sky was the color of my favorite ripped, baby blue jeans, and cotton-candyesque clouds moseyed along the heavens without a care in the world. The neighborhood lingered with the smell of citrus from the orange trees that lined my route. And Spanish rippled like a melody through the airways making me excited and ready to sing along with them or so I thought.
As my roommate and I walked into Stradivarius, a clothing store local to Spain, the speakers bumped Ariana Grande. As the music soaked into my core like a sponge, by the time I made my way to the next rack of clothing, I found myself shimmying to the beat. My intention was only to look, but a special baseball cap that said, “you are unique” caught my eye. I picked up the cap, did a quick once over of the store and made my way to the register. By the time I made my way to the counter, my roommate was completing her purchase then my turn came.
I walked up to the counter, and placed my cap into the sale representative’s hands, but her response was cold. She mumbled a few words. I asked her to repeat herself, and she mumbled again, this time lower. All I could understand was “bolsa” or “bag,” which reminded me from studying abroad two years ago that one needs to pay for bags. The utterance of “bolsa” and my past experience was enough for me to comprehend that she was asking me if I wanted a bag as well. I muddled my way through the rest of the conversation and paid for my cap. However, this encounter made me wonder, “why are people like this?”
People can be so inconsiderate, so unkind, so rude. Although wearing a mask, their ice-like demeanor escapes the confines of said protection turning the air frigid. This encounter reminds me of the song “People” by Jonathan McReynolds. In his first verse, McReynolds sings, “They are the best and the worst you’ve created, loving and hating and opinionated, loners in basements and those congregated, deliver me” (McReynolds 00:24-00:42). And I find myself thinking the same thing, “Lord, deliver me from people.” People’s opinions can change the way we operate. People’s words can cut like the sharpest knife. And people’s actions can leave us feeling less than who we really are, so how do we overcome?
As a believer, I am reminded of the verse, “[I am] the light of the world. A town on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). To me, this means I am a light that reflects God’s brilliance. I am a light that cannot be covered. God does not choose me just to stifle me; He chose me for a continuous purpose. God is proud of me, and therefore shares this with the world, so that others can witness His glory in my life. I am light that is needed in this world. I cannot be extinguished.
However, a moment can shift my mood or cause my light to flicker instead of blaze, and bouncing back from whatever threw me through a loop can be difficult. McReynolds goes on to say, “The hurt are hurting, and the broken are breaking, and the ones who had their joy taken away are out here taking from other people” (McReynolds 2:47-3:09). And I am no better than them, so Lord, please hear me when I say, “forgive me when I’m one of those people…deliver me” (McReynolds 3:52-4:05). I still have work to do. I do my best to reflect my Father, but like this woman, who probably dealt with a disastrous customer before me or was spoken to roughly by a co-worker or was just simply having a bad day, I too struggle with being a light.
I want to be caring, but when others take advantage of my compassion, I become rigid. I want to be loving, but when others throw hate in my direction, all I want to do is throw hate right back. I want to be a light, but when others try to stomp out my flame, I resolve to snuff out the flame altogether to suit others. I learned that one way to put out a flame is to use a candle snuffer, which suffocates the flame of oxygen. A flame needs oxygen to continue burning, and in this life, there are individuals who will intentionally/unintentionally suffocate you, suffocate your flame. However, that cannot be the case. Choose oxygen. Choose to be a light. Choose to burn so bright that whoever is trying to put out your flame is burned by the blaze that radiates from within.
Yes, this can be challenging to continue to be a light in a dark place or a town on a hill, but when you want to give up, know that God will provide. He will provide oxygen, ironically enough, in the form of people. On that same day, I went home and cried. I questioned why I came to Spain. I felt defeated. However, with some help from a colleague, I returned to the same clothing store on the same day, encountered the same sales representative, and purchased my now favorite bed-time sweater. I even made a mistake, and I mistakenly called the “bolsa” a “basura” or “trash” instead. I laughed my way out of the store that night! I am imperfect, but the lovely thing about that is God still loves me flaws and all. His love is unconditional. And when I wanted to snuff out my flame, he sends support, or oxygen, to help the flame within continue burning. When people mistreat me, he treats me right, and I can always count on Him because He never counts me out.
McReynolds, Jonathan. “People.” People, Entertainment One Music, 2020, track 2.