We are all human. You're going to laugh at me, but that fact became starkly apparent to me this past week after watching the season finale of ABC's The Bachelor.
Full disclosure: I love Jesus, I love worship music, and I love listening to sermon podcasts. I also love me some Chris Harrison and indulging in the guilty pleasure that is the The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise.
Whether you watch the show or not, you probably heard that last Monday was the season finale. Ben Higgins narrowed down his playing field to two women. Spoiler alert: he tells them both he loves them. He ultimately must decide who to propose to—he goes with Lauren, the woman he can't imagine life without. It's been four months since filming wrapped, and the happy couple is still together and planning a wedding, which is already somewhat of an anomaly in the Bachelor universe.
Now I don't believe in soulmates or "The One." I don't see The Bachelor as the ultimate way to find love or reach some elusive happily ever after. What I do see this show as is a fascinating look at the way we as a culture tend to think and behave, particularly when it comes to relationships.
While the show has been around for 30 seasons (yes, three-zero), I actually started watching only a few seasons ago. It became a fun way to spend time with girlfriends on Monday nights, and it also sparked some really thoughtful and serious conversations.
I became especially invested in this recent season because Bachelor Ben is a Christian. He's spoken openly about his faith, his church, and his relationship values on a regular basis. And not to brag or anything, but he and I also happen to have mutual friends, so I can confirm that his faith is the real deal.
But do I actually know the guy? Nope, never met him in my life. In my dreams? Now that's a different story…
My point is that I'm completely fascinated by Ben and his fiancée Lauren. I feel like I’ve been a part of their relationship since the day they met. I'm wrapped up in this couple’s life together as they navigate dating, engagement, and hopefully marriage, in a Christian context, while the whole country watches them do so.
The publicity and the pressure is enough to make anybody flinch.
Yet here I am at home on my couch, getting into spirited discussions with my friends over whether Ben and his fiancée live together. That's what US Weekly reported, guys, so it must be true.
If they live together, how well are they really representing the Christian faith? I mean they're good people and all, but, like, how much of Believers are they really?
They've prayed together on the show, and they recently gave an interview saying they pray together before bed. Immediately, my mind goes to, Of course they do because they're living together. They're celebrities now. They’ve sold out.
Whoa. Somebody pump the brakes before I drive this car off the road.
Who do I think I am? Who am I to judge?
I don't even know Ben and Lauren. I might think I do because I've been watching them for two hours a week the past three months. But I don't. The only people who know this couple’s true hearts are they themselves—and God.
"Being a Christian, there's a judgment factor placed on you."
That's what Ben told People magazine this week. And he's right—we are so quick to judge, even when as Christians that's exactly what we're called not to do. Judging is one of our favorite pastimes. It's easy. Second-nature even. It makes me sad that we can be known for being judgmental when we serve a God who hung out with societal rejects. He didn’t just hang out with the lepers, the prostitutes, and the tax collectors. He loved them and treated them as equals.
It’s hard to remember that when we live in a world defined by hierarchy.
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette series is a manifestation of this. The process of highly manufactured romance might lead to lasting love and it might not, but ultimately the shows are based on competition and comparison.
In fact, at the time of the Bachelor reunion show (when all the rejected female contenders go on TV to talk about their experience), one woman from Ben’s season was offered the role of the next Bachelorette—only to have it revoked once fans freaked out about the decision and producers deemed another woman’s story more compelling for the Bachelorette. As if it’s not enough to be turned down by the guy you love, this poor girl had (seemingly) all of America turn on her, too. And I was totally a part of that.
The whole situation reminds me of something my friend Hilary, a successful business coach and stylist, posted about the show a few weeks back:
"Tonight's the first time I've ever watched the Bachelor reunion show with such empathy for women, all women. In this microcosm of 28 women there are so many who misunderstood one another because they're an introvert not an extrovert, have a different sense of humor.
They all have stories of why they're right, until someone apologizes and they concede maybe it wasn't so outrageous after all… I felt I understood every 'villain' for how she acted out of her defensiveness and imperfection.
So many of the women describe how they feel hard to love. These beautiful, successful, vibrant women who had the courage (or yes, insanity) to take this leap.
Entrepreneurship isn't ideal for every personality. Nor is going on a reality show. Maybe motherhood or city life doesn't light you up the way someone else does.
As strong as we are, we're also tender. I've become and am becoming far better at celebrating who I am. And hope I'm growing better at giving others permission to be who they are.
Be you. It's the only choice that will make you both successful, and happy."
How different would life look if we had a little more empathy and a little less judgment? I shudder to think how I would be portrayed on a reality show. I’m sure I would make mistakes. Life works in the same way.
In his book Searching For God Knows What, Donald Miller recounts an incident from middle school when the popular girl was dared to give a geeky boy a kiss on the cheek. Well she goes for it—and “shrivels in disgust” when it’s done. Miller writes,
“Though it was only a dare and could not be confused with a sincere act of affection, she had broken the invisible social barrier. That evening I wondered if the kiss would make an impact on social partitions. A valuable person had crossed the line to kiss a person of no value.
Maybe they would realize we are all just humans, I thought.
Maybe they would realize the feelings of the hierarchy were not true, that we were somehow equal, a computer nerd and a football player, the same.”
We are all just humans.
I don't know Ben's or Lauren’s stories, I don’t know the stories of the other contestants on the show, and I don’t know the stories of the people I encounter on the streets of New York City every day. They don’t know my story either. How would my storyline be masterfully edited by producers if I went on a reality television show? Lord knows I have made plenty of mistakes and will continue to make them for the rest of my life.
But that's where grace comes in. Oh, how we need it. My heart is so quick to rely on a first impression, my own perception. I make snap judgments every single day—about the homeless man on the subway, about the woman who bumps into me on the street, about the candidates in the presidential race, about the young and attractive Christian couple on America’s favorite dating show. Thank God I’m given grace in this. We all are given His grace, free of charge. What a gift.
I pray that when the world hears about Christianity, they don’t think of being judged or ranked. I pray that we would cherish the uniqueness of each other’s stories and experiences. In the words of Miller, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
In the end, our hearts are not our own; they belong to God. He is the only one who gets to judge, and that’s a very good thing. I pray that whether we’re reading an entertainment magazine or we’re interacting with the homeless in our neighborhood, we extend a little more kindness and grace to one another. I know it will go a long way.