By Diane Houghtaling

I’ve been thinking about stereotypes. We all do it. We cast people into stereotypes based on first impressions, what we’ve heard about them, a specific characteristic they have, or their race, gender or social status. Many times we stereotype others because of one incident from their past. One past action can define who they are to us for a lifetime.

Even though we all do it, we have no idea how damaging this can be to others. An example is a teenage girl who becomes pregnant. She now has a whole school, both students and teachers, a whole town, and many family members and friends casting her into a stereotype of "single unwed teen mother."

Everyone whispers about her and looks at her differently. She hears comments about the type of person she is and that her life is basically over now. She begins to define herself according to how others have stereotyped her. All the hopes, dreams and goals she had for her life are now shattered. If she continues to see herself and her circumstances in light of this stereotype, she could be stuck here for a lifetime.

A stereotype is based on judgment, prejudice and the opinions of others that we’ve adopted. However, when we view someone as part of a group or classification of people, they cease to exist as individuals. They lose the status of dearly loved child of God, someone He has created with value and worth for a specific purpose. They become a statistic to cast aside.

We need to stop stereotyping people and treat them as individuals. We must stop forming opinions based on what others have said or because of one specific thing we know about them. Take time to get to know individuals and see them through God’s eyes.

How does God see us? He sees the finished product – not the mistakes we’ve made along the way but who He’s created us to become. He sees our hearts – the hurts, the needs, the longing for love and acceptance. He sees beyond the appearance – the masks we wear and the walls we’ve built to protect ourselves. He sees our hopes and dreams of what we wish our lives were. God desires that we also see others through His eyes and love them with His love.

You may have experienced the pain and damaging effects of being cast into a negative stereotype. Many know the frustration of being judged for a mistake you’ve made years ago. Even though you’ve changed your life you’re still remembered for one past moment.

Know that God loves you and does not see you or judge you as people do. He knows the plans He has for you to give you hope and a future (see Jeremiah 29:11). Cry out to the Lord to receive the love, healing and wholeness He has for you.

Hope Ministries Inc. is a Christian counseling center. If you want to speak confidentially with someone, call us at (845) 482-5300.