Several years ago we received an envelope in the mail box from our granddaughter who, at the time, lived in Louisiana. It contained a cut out picture figure of a young boy, smiling and ready for adventure along with a letter advising that we were the ones to provide him with that adventure! We were told that this was Flat Stanley and she was asking us to take him with us and to take pictures of him as we went about our day. She then asked that we send the pictures to her for a project at school.
Being the accommodating grandparents that we are, we took many pictures of Flat Stanley, at home, in the car, at a restaurant, in the RV, at a meeting, at the church soundboard, even at a basketball game and later playing cards with us. We had a good time thinking about where we could position Flat Stanley for another shot. When we were done, we emailed the pictures to our daughter‐in-love so she could do whatever next was necessary for our granddaughter to finish her project.
When we were done, we were looking at the pictures and chuckling at how we had gotten Flat Stanley in so many different positions, activities, etc. Then I began actually thinking about Flat Stanley. Now, I know that this was a school project for our granddaughter. But, who is Flat Stanley?
I saw Flat Stanley as a cute, paper cut‐out boy who we hand‐positioned in various scenes for use in a school project. We were careful with Flat Stanley: we did not hurt him or put him in peril. But we did not really care if he wanted to participate in playing cards or going to the arena for basketball – we never asked. (I realize that he could not have responded to our inquiry, but that is beside the point I am trying to make.) He was someone to be used for a specific purpose, not someone to get to know for his own sake.
Now, it has been awhile since we had children in elementary school and I, quite frankly, had not heard of Flat Stanley, at least not to my memory. So, after the pictures were taken and we had sent them on their merry way, I did some research about just who in the world was Flat Stanley. It turns out that Flat Stanley is a children’s book written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer in 1964. The premise of the original storyi is that Stanley Lambchop was flattened during his sleep when a bulletin board that was hung over his bed fell on him. Thus, he became Flat Stanley. One of the advantages of being flat is that he can be mailed in an envelope to his friends and so he can share adventures all over the world. Ultimately Flat Stanley is pumped up back into his original shape but not until he has had quite some exciting times while he was flat. So, now I know about Flat Stanley.
But this effort involving this little guy prompted me to wonder – do I see other people as Flat Stanleys, Flat Sandys, Flat Sams or Flat Susans? Do I see them as two‐dimensional people to be used for my own purpose and nothing more? What is my first thought when I meet someone new ‐‐ “will this person be of benefit or help to me?” or “how can I make this person’s day brighter?”
Think about our interactions with people in our neighborhood, office, store, school, church. Are we taking the opportunity and/or making the effort to get behind the surface of Flat Sam or Flat Susan to see the whole person, or at least as much of the whole person that they will allow us to see. Are we trying to put ourselves in the visitor’s position and welcome them, not only with open arms (of course that is a very good start) but also by missing them if they are absent, and letting them know that they are missed? Or by calling during the week to see how they are doing, or just to lend a friendly ear? Do we limit our friendship to the two dimensions we see in public or do we make the effort to get behind the façade and so that we can know them personally? Are we friends‐in‐fact or simply friendly?
Of course, Jesus Christ speaks to our dealings with the Flat Stanleys in our world. He describes one who learns about others and who helps them even to the detriment of himself in the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke chapter 10. The Samaritan stopped and helped a Jew ‐‐ he saw Flat Stanley on the side of the road but he did not leave him there, unlike the two earlier passers‐by. The Samaritan went out of his way to help, even at his own personal expense, for this complete stranger of a hated people. “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” Jesus asked. (Luke 10:36) The reply was that it was the man who had mercy on the injured traveler, at which point Jesus said “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)
The Christians in the early church were described in Acts 9:36 as always doing good and helping the poor. Apparently, these early Christians did not ignore the Flat Stanleys in their world. They looked at people, saw the need and responded to it as best they could.
I am quite certain that my granddaughter did not think about Flat Stanley in this light. But the thought stuck in my head. Do I see others merely as Flat Stanleys, Flat Sandys, Flat Sams or Flat Susans? If so, perhaps I should spend time with the Lord and see how He would guide me to open my eyes and see that what appears to be only a two‐dimensional “flat” person actually is someone who has had many experiences that combine to create the individual I see. The person is someone who has had trials and tribulations, hurts and histories that form a lens through which she views the world, and me. Quite possibly, those hurts, trials and difficulties are not all in the past, and they are being hidden behind the façade of “okayness” while the individual is aching for someone just to care or show an interest.
In other words, the person I am looking at is just like me. Do I want to be treated as if I am a Flat Linda, without substance, two‐dimensional who is of no import to anyone? The answer to that question is a resounding, “No, of course not.” If that is true, then I am above all a hypocrite if I treat others in such manner. Each person is important to the Lord – thus, each person should be important to me as a child of His.
Flat Stanley might be out of sight and in his envelope resting at home now (perhaps he is on the floor under the laundry, or maybe even thrown away due to various moves the family has made), but the impression he made on me is much deeper than two‐dimensional. I am thankful for the way the Holy Spirit used this little paper guy in my own heart and mind. Now, to put the lessons of Flat Stanley into practice!
Here is where the “rubber meets the road!”
i There are multiple books in this series and there are numerous other books being written to chronicle Flat Stanley’s exploits. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flat_Stanley