Important lessons can come in unexpected places. I learned a crucial life lesson while in training to be a Sunday School teacher. I expected to learn where my class was, how to get supplies, and what the curriculum was. I learned all of these things, but it was during a discussion of how to interact with children one-on-one that the most profound lesson came.
The Children’s pastor told us, “Never praise a child for their appearance. Praise them for their character.”
She based her instruction on the words God had spoken to the prophet Samuel when he was seeking the man who was to be the next king of Israel. Samuel looked to anoint the tallest and strongest man as king but God corrected his thinking saying, “the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16)
She told us that we lived in a society that valued superficial achievements and attributes but that we should be different, for a person can be externally beautiful and yet ugly inside, intellectually brilliant but selfish and unkind. There is nothing wrong with pretty dresses, cute bows or cool shoes but these were not things to praise in Sunday School. Our job was to teach children what God values, goodness of the heart. We were to do this by praising such things as kindness, obedience, generosity and love, those things that all children can do regardless of physical attributes or giftedness.
I have never forgotten her words, for they have applications for grown ups too. I do not have to look far or wait long to see proof that our world praises the wrong things. In my profession I know many physicians who financially successful and clinically talented yet uncaring and rude. I have patients who were beautiful on the outside and respected in their professions who hide secret additions and abusive behaviors. I live in a culture in which it is possible to be famous and popular, to have millions of followers on social media and millions of dollars in the bank and yet be a selfless failure in important relationships. Many “successful” people are moral failures.
I want to be different. I want to be a success in the eyes of God. To do this will require me to work on my insides, the heart that only he can see. I may make less money and be less successful but is fine with me, for I may make a difference in the lives of others, which is of far greater value.
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