When Susan Boyle stepped onto the stage of the show “Britain’s Got Talent” a few weeks ago, she was immediately dismissed by the judges because of her dowdy, frumpy appearance. She wore a matronly dress, her hair was untamed, and she looked older than her 47 years. Skepticism and a bit of contempt were on the judges faces as they awaited her performance. When Susan began her rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from the musical “Les Miserables,” the judges faces of contempt turned to shock, awe, and then actual joy. All during her performance, Simon Cowell, known for his blunt and often controversial criticisms, was actually grinning. Since her debut that night, the YouTube clip of Susan’s performance has been viewed by over 50 million people world-wide.
Susan grew up poor in a small Scottish village with her parents and 8 brothers and sisters. Bullied throughout her school years because of a learning disability, she retreated to her private world of music. In her later years, she has devoted herself to caring for her ailing mother and volunteering at her Catholic Parish.
By the world’s standards Susan has led an unremarkable life. Yet because of the opportunity to share her great gift of singing on British television, her life has already had an impact on the world, and most likely will continue to do so.
The Old Testament tells the story of another person who knew what it was liked to be judged by outward appearances. In the book of 1 Samuel, the prophet Samuel travels to the house of Jesse in the town of Bethlehem to anoint the new king at the Lord’s instructions. Samuel takes one look at Jesse’s eldest son Eliab and says, “Surely this is the LORD’s anointed.”
“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.”
Each one of Jesse’s seven sons was presented to Samuel and all were rejected by God. It was not until the youngest son, David, bursts into the house, smelling like sheep and with a ruddy appearance that God says, “This is the one; anoint him.” What David lacked in physical appearance, he made up for by having a heart that belonged wholly to God.
It is easy to judge people based on their outward appearance. We all do it, and yet we do not want to be judged in the same way.
My friend Debbie has something in common with Susan Boyle. She knows what it is like to be judged harshly because of appearance. A car accident at the age of twelve left her with a physical disability and a speech impediment. She is talented and smart; however her talents are not as pronounced as Susan’s. She will never be on You Tube or the BBC. She loves to sing but will never audition for Simon Cowell either in the United States or Britain.
Debbie’s greatest talent is her service. Though walking is a challenge for her because of her disability, she arrives each Thursday afternoon between 1pm and 2pm to fold bulletins; sometimes walking here from across town. She and I spend about an hour together each week folding the bulletin and chatting about life, her love of cats, and whatever the headlines of the day may be. Week by week, piece by piece, she has unfolded her story for me. She can be a bit distrustful of people because the mistreatment she has received over the years. Yet she has come to trust me and I look forward to her visits each week.
I have learned a lot from Debbie in the years she has been volunteering. She is patient and persevering. Though the stares and taunts of others are hurtful to her, she continues to go about her life finding joy in serving others; both people and animals. She has taught me that everyone has worth and value in God’s eyes, and hidden talents can be discovered in others if we but take the time to uncover them.
John 7:24 : “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”