I have a few questions for you, dear readers, and I would like you to consider them carefully.
- When you see a person, do you naturally assume you know that person’s age based solely on that person’s appearance?
- If so, do you naturally assume you know that person’s maturity level based solely on the age you have assumed that person to be?
- Regardless of question #2, would you be so brash as to let that person know how old you think that person is?
Well, I hope not.
In light of my experiences over the past few years, and especially throughout this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about other people’s perceptions of myself, and my age has been of particular concern to me. To most people, this may not seem significant. Age should be no indication of character or maturity, yes? Let me be a bit more specific. One stranger’s perception of my age should not influence my maturity level. Yet, it does.
I know that I look young for my age. When I was in junior high school and even high school, this did not bother me so much. Lately, though, I’ve realized that I not only look young, but I act young, too. People tell me that I look fifteen rather than twenty, and I feel like I am fifteen again. No longer am I the strong young woman who took it upon herself to fix her car. I am now the frightened little girl who will not even raise her hand in class.
Furthermore, once someone learns that I am older than I appear, that person tries to rectify the mistake by telling me that I will appreciate my young looks when I am old. First of all, when I get old, I will develop wrinkles and grey hair just like everyone else. Please do not tell me I will still look young and glamorous. Secondly, before I get very old, I want to look like I fit into my generation. When I have children, I actually want to look like I am their mother. I do not want to be the mother who tries to copy her daughter’s style and mannerisms (but I could go into an entirely different tangent with that one).
So, now we know that I look young, so I feel young, and I act young, but I want to add to that. This age perception/maturity level paradigm applies in the other direction, too. I have seen girls who look older than they are. I know that people tell those girls that they look older. Therefore, those girls feel older, and they act older. This thought is more upsetting to me than my own problem of (a lack of) maturity. (Please note, here, that I am speaking about girls specifically and not boys because I feel that I only have the authority to speak about girls. Men, I would appreciate any commentary you may have on this subject pertaining to both boys and girls.) Undoubtedly, everyone has seen at least one girl who acts more mature than she really is. In many cases, we have seen her make mistakes resulting from her presumed maturity. These mistakes can cause a lifetime of pain.
So many people look to others for confirmation of their actions. I suppose this is human nature. We want to fit in. We want to be what we seem. But that is exactly what God calls us NOT to be.
For example, most of us know the story of how Samuel anointed David to be the next king of Israel. In this story, Samuel, a prophet of God, knows that the new king will be one of Jesse’s sons. So, he goes to Jesse’s house, meets Jesse’s oldest sons, and one by-one asks God if any of these sons are to be Israel’s next king. God rejects all of Jesse’s sons until Samuel comes to the youngest son, David. Samuel thought that David was too small and too young to be king, but the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” 1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT). You see, we are not all what we seem, and we are simply waiting for people to tell us that they do not see us as we seem. Does that make any sense? Do not tell people what they look like. Instead, tell people what they act like. Obviously, we must be kind, but we must look at a person’s heart and see what he can be, not what he looks to be.