Will you hear my confession? The truth is, I used to be elitist.
I got to be that way through a combination of nature and nurture. As I entered adulthood, it flourished in me and became more evident, but not to me.
The first time I was called out on it was in Forest Home, Toledo when I was in my 30’s. Of course I was offended, but the person who called me out was someone I respected and was learning from, so I didn’t explode at his suggestion. Instead, I brushed it under the table. Whenever I’d think about it later, I’d tell myself that man didn’t really know me, and therefore, didn’t know what he was talking about.
I was a walking contradiction. Although I deliberately kept my distance from wealthy people, I enjoyed and moved effortlessly among the trappings that came along with having an easier life than others. There were certain things I took for granted that came with my lifestyle, and I gave no thought to the fact that a lot of what I took for granted were actually goals and luxuries to others.
I attended parties and gatherings where I could clearly see the facades, and the naked pleas for approval of the superficial, and thought I was different because I didn’t think I was like them. Then I started avoiding those parties and gatherings where all of this was on display, because I didn’t want any part of the pretense.
But still, I regularly took vacations in exotic places, was often rude to wait-staff for not catering to my needs exactly. I was so selfish and self-centered, and generally thought the world revolved around me.
That started to change one day in Toledo, Belize. I was driving my housekeeper, as I did everyday, the couple of miles to the highway from where we lived, for her to get the bus to her home. (I heard your gasp! “Did she just say ‘housekeeper’”? I did, but that’s another story for another time.) When there was a break in the conversation from me talking about my kids, she told me about the serious problems she was having with her children. In that moment I saw a real human being, a woman just like myself, and realized that she didn’t want to hear about mine because her heart was full with her own. She had an entire life outside of taking care of my household that had nothing to do with me. It was a humbling realization.
That was the moment when I started to really see, and care about others, and could truly begin to listen. It was also the moment that made it possible for me to hear others tell me something they could see in me that I couldn’t – that I was elitist – even though it would take thirteen years for me to work out, and walk through, that process… and even though I was a healing, growing Christian.
It was a combination of circumstances and people that opened my eyes to how flawed I was in this area, and how much work needed to be done. My husband, Jesse, recognized this in me when we got married, but he knows that I’m willing to change when I spot something that I can work on, and he didn’t think I was a lost cause. Instead of criticizing and condemning me, he made room for safe conversations to take place where I could explore who and how I had been, and ways in which I could change. I appreciate that so much!
It has been a process. When I recognized that my thinking was warped, I repented, and then I sought Holy Spirit’s direction, knowledge, and a new way of thinking. In a Christmas sermon series last year, Laura Rannow, a leader at our church, gave a message that provided me even more tools with which to work on myself, and I’ve made use of them.
As part of committing to this change, I’m now always checking the motivation behind my choices and words. Sometimes it feels like I am in a state of flux trying to differentiate what the old mindset dictates, and what the new me desires. Some days I think it would just be easier to drop everything and go live a simple life on a mountain by the sea somewhere, where there is limited wifi and very few people; but I know that isn’t where I’ll find my answer. I’ll find it in the struggle, where there is wifi and people, that is, in community!
I could go into more depth how bad I was, and about this process, but really I share this story for this purpose: to say that something that has defined you all your life, doesn’t have to be the thing that defines you for the rest of your life. You can unlearn even the things that are deeply ingrained. Holy Spirit wants to help us change. He wants to give us a new mind, new eyes, and a new way; and sometimes to do that He puts some people in our path to call us out, and others to provide the light and the space for us to make the changes we need to.
Recently, I’ve been thinking with gratitude about the friends I’ve had for a long time. We have seen each other through different stages of life. I am grateful for you. I would hope that maybe you’ve noticed the change in me – that I am not that person anymore. Thank you for giving me the room to change; for not holding my feet to the fire of who I used to be. I hope that I am that for you too.
Copyright © Debbie Mendoza July 2021