First Impressions Count
This was brought home to me again last week. I received a call at work and the voice said, “Here’s a voice from the past—like 42 years ago.” In fact I later realised it was more like 45.
I tried to do my sums and come up with a name, to no avail. He told me who it was.
Nick had moved in next door to us when I was about 11. They had a long sloping driveway that allowed for endless hours of boxcar/go-cart fun, hurtling down and swerving off to the left onto the grass patch at the bottom of the garden near the front gate (alternatively turning the cart over on the turn and skidding down the driveway on hands, knees, heads or whatever).
We also camped out in a tent in his garden. I would reduce my father’s supply of Navy Cut and we’d make ourselves some cob pipes to cough and splutter ourselves to sleep. It wasn’t long after they moved in that we made the most difficult of all the moves my family made in my first twelve years of life—others included
Zimbabwe, South Africa, UK, Pietermaritzburg. This time we moved across the road but, because no one took it seriously (we were seasoned movers after all) nothing got packed properly and the resultant mess became a Darwinian soup in the front bedroom.
I digress. Nick reminded me of an early over-the-fence conversation.
Me: “Come see my cannas.”
Nick: “OK.” (Thinks): “Cool! He’s got guns and cannons and stuff.”
He said he came over and what does he get? “A bunch of bloody flowers.”
I guess if you’re 11 and you haven’t got anything cool to show off, you have to make do with what you’ve got.
It struck me again how important first impressions are. And, at the same time, how unimportant they are. That was a memory Nick has carried for more than forty years. Mercifully, I had forgotten. It could have destroyed all hope of friendship: “I don’t want to hang out with someone who thinks flowers are cool.” (Of course, we didn’t ‘hang out’ in those days.) As it happened, our interest (or was it desperation) was strong enough to explore beyond the first impressions and we went on to do really cool stuff.
First impressions are critical because they can destroy all hope of a friendship before it even starts. On the other hand, first impressions are much less important than we make out. If only we have the courage to stay with this person, dig beneath the surface, discover who they really are.
It is a measure of God’s great mercy and unconditional love that he is not swayed by first impressions. He knew from the beginning what he was getting with us. He even knew that what lies beneath the surface isn’t much better. The possibility of friendship, transformation, all of these come not from within us; they are not things that lie beneath the surface and just need a bit of love to release. They do not exist. Our ability to relate to God, to become like him, is a sheer gift of grace. That gift isn’t there because God saw something deep within us that just needed a bit of polishing—we have nothing to offer this gracious God. He loved us, plain and simple. For reasons that are beyond our comprehension, God loves us and chose to offer us friendship, transformation, the opportunity to become fully human.