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:
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.