One of the striking aspects of shifting from pastoral ministry to landscaping last spring was the change in how I was perceived. When I would be mowing, planting, or some other work for a home owner I would regularly go unnoticed. Sometimes it was just letting me do my work, while at other points it was more like actively being overlooked. In my pastoral work and personal life I interacted with people from a variety of backgrounds and there was generally a sense of relating as equals. But all of sudden, because the outward form had changed and I had the title of landscaper, I was in a very different position. There was nothing different about me, but people related to me completely differently.
Then outside of work when I’d be hanging out with Hillary or the kids and look less like a landscaper and more like your average young professional the tables would turn again. Because of how I looked along with certain cues about my education and our lifestyle, it would be assumed that I belonged among the successful and upwardly mobile.
Even among my landscaping coworkers, I saw this big change in my “status.” Though they knew I was a pastor just weeks ago, they would talk about their lives openly speaking of the things people don’t tell “clergy.” Whatever filters existed would quickly come off, because we were in a work setting and I quickly got to know people as they were. If as I pastor I had sat down with them and tried to get a feel for who they were and what life was like, it would be a pretty different experience.
All of this has made me more aware of how I depend on outward appearance in relating to people and made me wonder about the self hidden under the uniform. Under a successful veneer I know there are many just getting by or not even making it. The guy plowing the snow from the driveway or shoveling the sidewalk has more happening than I realize.
The bible teaches us that every human is full of glory and ruin because we are made in the image of God but twisted by sin. When I think about all the uniforms we wear and the matching or contrasting realities underneath it points me back to the essentials. I need to relate to every person as a reflection of God himself. Through all the layers we put on and despite the distortion of sin there is a human behind each face, under each uniform. I need to be wise because appearances are often deceiving, but my primary calling is to love. And God knows the heart. He sees through it all and will make the truth plain in time.