Alisha’s life was a mess. Her family was dysfunctional and broken. Her past was littered with poor choices, shattered promises, substances and illicit relationships.
She hated her parents, despised authority and was angry with God ... that is, until she met some people who saw beyond her exterior and realized the beauty that lay deep inside.
When she arrived on the campus of an international boarding school in the Caribbean, she was greeted by people who refused to evaluate her by what they saw. They did not judge her by her beauty, her height, her build or her features.
They did not get caught up in the rebellious scowl or the disrespect she projected onto anyone with authority. Instead, they dug deeper. They knew that behind the façade—deep under that pain, anger and hostility—there was innate beauty and waiting-to-break-free splendor.
When they first met Alisha, they did not react. They loved. They did not judge; they esteemed.
They did not give her what her actions deserved; they gave her what her soul was craving—what it needed.
I am sure that, at times, it was not easy. When she would spew venom on the staff, some wanted to respond in kind. When she wounded fellow students with her insensitive and selfish actions, it would have been easier to label her “troublemaker,” “agitator” or “rabble-rouser.” Instead they chose to see and respond as if she were precious, priceless and a worthy investment.
And it worked.
Alisha at 19 is nothing like Alisha at 15.
I had the privilege of meeting the beautiful, joy-filled young lady several months ago. And although I knew some of her past, I had problems believing this was the same girl who, just a few years prior, was angry, bitter and depressed. The Alisha I know is kind-hearted, full of life and encouraging. She is passionate about Jesus, life and others.
Alisha is the student any parent would be proud to call daughter and any youth worker would be pleased to have represent their ministry.
As I evaluated the drastic change that took place in Alisha’s life, I noticed several things that played a role in the transformation (structural stability, loving boundaries, faith, etc.), but I am convinced the one thing that played the greatest role in the makeover is perspective.
Alisha met people who saw beauty in the midst of her mess. Eventually, she began to see the same.
Beyond the Mask
When you look at the young people in your life, you have a choice. You can give them attention based on their behavior, or you can grant them grace based upon God’s love and plan for them.
You can address the external mask and demeanor, or you can speak to their heart.
When it comes to difficult people, you either give them what they are asking for or you give them what they need.
If you desire to encourage, empower and inspire your students, you will have to bite your cynical tongue, look deeper, pray harder and intentionally speak words of life, hope and promise.
But it all begins with your perspective. You will either see the external mess of their lives or the internal beauty of God’s intentions for them.
Although you can make a decision to change, your perspective it is going to take time, energy and effort. Occasionally you may look at them through yesterday’s lenses that are not Spirit-inspired. You may judge. You may struggle to see the beauty. You can, however, train yourself over time to truly alter your view.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get moving in the right direction:
- Strategically pray through the lens of Scripture. Pray Psalm 139 over them by name. Instead of praying about their behavior, pray God’s intention over them. Thank the Lord that they are God’s "workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Eph 2:10). There are many other Scriptures that can guide your prayers; make a short list of the passages that you want to begin praying, and discipline yourself to follow through. These types of prayers will both affect them spiritually and transform your perceptions.
- Commit some of your prayer time to asking God to help you see your difficult student the way He does. “God, help me see through the mess. Help me see the beauty that lies there.” If you are at a loss and struggling to hang on to a positive view, you might need to begin to ask God to renew your hope.
- Write a letter to them, voicing the hope and promise God has placed inside them. An unexpected letter can become an amazing tool to communicate the depths of your love and commitment to them. It also reinforces the truth of their value from God’s perspective. In the letter, share some of the Scriptures you believe are directed at them. Make sure you don’t manipulate with your words, and be sure to give the letter to them at the appropriate time.
- Casually compliment them on a character trait you see inside of them. One of the things I have heard from students is that the adults in their lives only see the bad in them. The mentality of “They only see me when I screw up” is not what we want to project. You can affirm them by pointing out their kindness, goodness, tenderness or positive choices. Don’t wait for it to come naturally, as it might not. Share something positive with them today.
Alisha may not have thought she had much value, but when loving leaders around her chose to see the beauty instead of the mess, her life began to change. We can have the same impact on others just like her.
Sean Dunn is a speaker, author and the founder of Groundwire, an organization that exists to broadcast hope to anyone who may be struggling or in crisis. Operating 24 hours a day, hundreds of volunteers man Groundwire's chat platform, which is available to anyone at anytime who may need help, encouragement or affirmation. Sean and his four children live outside of Denver, Colo.
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