There’s a popular Korean saying that I always heard growing up: “You can’t spit at a smiling face.” I’ve never spat in anyone’s face before, smiling or scowling, but I did notice this: I can never seem to despise someone enjoying a popsicle.
Hear me out. I grew up attending public schools in Singapore. I don’t know about now, but back in the 1990s, school discipline in the public schools I attended bordered on child abuse. I saw teachers do horrific things to young students in the name of discipline. In fourth grade, we had one particularly vicious teacher who was known to be the disciplinary matron of the school. Almost every day I would hear her shrill screeches at some poor kid who didn’t tuck his shirt in or was tardy to class. Or I’d cringe at the loud, wet smacks echoing down the hallway as she slapped the sweaty backs of non-compliant students. Nobody liked this teacher, and I despised her with all my 9-year-old heart. Until I saw her eating a popsicle.
It was during recess, and I spotted her standing alone on the second floor leaning against the balcony, sucking on a little popsicle (or “lolly,” as we call it there). It was hot and humid, as it is every day in Singapore, and she was clearly enjoying that sweet, cold treat—her lips tainted with the neon color of the popsicle, blissfully oblivious to me looking up at her.
I don’t know why, but all of a sudden, I felt a rush of warm feelings for this woman whom I had once detested. There was just something about her enjoying that simple, ageless, even vulnerable act of licking a popsicle. For that moment, I saw her not as a terrifying banshee but as a fellow human being who wasn’t so terrible after all. That feeling was nothing profound, but innate and organic—it was a 9-year-old girl somehow relating with a middle-aged woman through the shared experience of delighting in an icy popsicle on a hot day. And for those few minutes, I genuinely loved that woman.
As messy and complicated as we human beings are, we’re also wonderfully simple, lovable creations. Whatever our gender or age or ethnicity, we cry when we’re sad, laugh when we’re delighted, eat when we’re hungry, kiss when we’re in love, hug when we comfort. From everything I’ve learned in the Bible about God’s heart for us, I believe God laughed with joy when He created us in His image, and His smile is imprinted in our sacred dignity as human beings. Stripped of all our hurts and wounds, our politics, our selfishness and stubbornness, we all naturally yearn to love and be loved. We were made to enjoy the sweet, precious life that God gave us. As broken as our world is, it’s still full of daily miracles: the pink sun rising and birds chirping every morning, or the fact that despite all the guaranteed heartaches and disappointments, we human beings still choose to love someone every day.
Perhaps because much of my interaction with humankind has been limited to iPhone blurbs during the pandemic, I had forgotten this beautiful side of humanity. Over the past few weeks, my frustrations and disappointments at my fellow human beings—especially at my brothers and sisters in Christ—have been rising like a dangerous tidal wave, threatening to crush my love and faith in others.
Perhaps you feel the same way. I certainly see similar attitudes on social media as people—particularly Christians—react passionately to hot-button issues such as racial justice, protests, mask mandates, church reopenings, you name it. I felt shame as my non-Christian friends sent me texts genuinely questioning certain Christians’ rhetoric and decisions, felt irritation when I saw statements that so opposed my own beliefs and values, and frankly, felt a lot of self-righteousness and judgmentalism in doing so. I wanted to argue and reason my way to prove my point, believing that maybe more rigorous debates and nuanced understandings could change minds (incidentally, the only minds I thought needed changing were those of others, not mine).
And then something happened in my family that forced me to think long and hard about the intrinsic, sacred value of human life—human life, period. As I was pondering these things, I read a tweet from author and WORLD Radio commentator Trillia Newbell that cleared the fog of idolatries in my heart. She tweeted: “I believe that much of our problems with each other isn’t a lack of nuance or charity or patience or grace. It’s a lack of love. We don’t love each other and if we can admit it and confess it, maybe all those other things will change.”
Ouch. Trillia was right: At the core of it, what I was missing was love. With love God formed us human beings, and with that love we are able to love others. That’s when I thought back again to that day as a fourth-grader when I watched my teacher enjoy a popsicle and felt an unforced, raw surge of love for her—not because she reformed herself and became kinder to her students. It was because even as an immature kid lacking sophisticated words to describe that experience, I was experiencing that God-given capability to see someone not just for her behaviors but for who she is—a fellow wonderful, adorable, glorious human being. It really is that simple.
Imagine what our world would be like if we all loved each other—period. No conditions, no reservations based on political ideology or religious denomination. Just pure love. Imagine what our Christian witness would look like to a world so full of hate and ugliness. Imagine that we responded to angry retorts with love. From experience, I’ve seen genuine kindness tame even the most irate, stubborn individuals, even if we still end with disagreements.
Love is a God-given response that, to me, is so hard only when I believe it is hard, and so easy when I take the time to step back from my own ideas and see others through God’s eyes. Oh, may our Lord help clear all the clutter in our hearts that obstructs us from that innate ability to love, even if we have to imagine everyone sucking a popsicle in order to do so.
Sophia Lee is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine based in Los Angeles. Follow Sophia on Twitter @SophiaLeeHyun.