Last week I got a splendid email from my friend Jen about — you guessed it: Judgment. She shared so transparently, wrote with such penetrating introspection, and gave such a brilliant example of an everyday struggle that I felt I had to share it with you all. Jen graciously gave me her permission to publish her letter (thank you muchly, Jen!) and so here it is:
I wanted to tell you that your last two posts have resonated so deeply with me because I have been acutely and painfully aware of my struggle with being judgmental for quite a long time now. I actually think there may have been a time when I was a young child that I was quite grace-filled and loving, but she’s been gone for a long time now, and I miss her! Being raised a Conservative Baptist, now in recovery, judgment of others has been engrained into my thoughts and responses virtually since I was in the womb. It has also been something I have tried to work on and change for many years, and while I have made a little progress, I still get very discouraged by my automatic condescending holier-than-thou responses to others.
I have a great example of that from just yesterday. I was sitting in front of the window at my favorite coffee shop downtown. Parking is always at a premium there, and there is a space right in front that should be a spot but is not. I am always tempted to pull into it (it just SITS there, empty, beckoning me!), thinking “I’m only going to be here a couple minutes while I run in for my coffee, it won’t be a big deal if I park here.” But my law-abiding conscience talks me out of it, and with some resentment I expand my search looking for a legal spot. God forbid that I have to walk a couple blocks for my coffee! So today as I was sitting at the window with that spot right in front of me, I saw two different people park there, and my immediate thought was “I can’t beLIEVE they are going to park there!! What kind of person ignores the obvious fact that there is no marked space there. InconCEIVable (in my best Princess Bride impression), and so rude! I hope they can see my disapproving look behind the reflections on the window.” And then I almost immediately got a little queasy in my stomach as I was forced to sit in the company of my own indignant, self-righteous, unpleasant self. I felt even worse when I saw that the first person was there for about 30 seconds while he dropped off a stack of free newspapers, and the second one was there about the same amount of time to drop someone off. Neither one was actually parking there. I shook my head in discouragement that my efforts at pursuing more grace, less judgment have been so ineffectual, especially because I didn’t do it just once, but TWICE within about 15 minutes of each other for the Exact. Same. Thing. Deep sigh…
I contemplated my rotten response for awhile with an appropriate dose of guilt and some not so appropriate shame. But as I pondered it with some resignation, I had a thought that gave me a little glimmer of hope, a sense that perhaps I haven’t completely failed. I realized that, while I still want to have a more grace-filled and compassionate automatic response to my fellow travelers, I’m not where I used to be. It occurred to me that perhaps the baby steps toward developing a more graceful response start with changing my response to my response. The first thoughts come pretty quickly, almost instantaneously. Stopping them has proved nearly impossible. But if I can see them for what they are, quickly, and then choose to react to that response differently before I inflict pain and shame, then maybe I’ve come a little closer to that distant goal of Christ-likeness. I can name the reaction as the judgment that it is, and then I can intentionally choose compassion. With that in mind, it occurred to me that my follow-up reaction to my immediate reaction has become much kinder and gentler a little more often, and that the transition between the two happens much faster. And I am quicker to apologize for the biting remarks that slip through before I get my filter turned on. Though my first reaction is all too often still one of harsh judgment, I transition more easily into a softer loving stance of acceptance. I retreat more hastily from the higher ground to which I have wrongly ascended, to take a position of humility and awareness of my own plank in my eye. I have not yet figured out how to stop the initial mental response of judgment, but I have gotten much quicker to initiate a second response that says “You’re doing it again, Jen. How about if you just worry about being kind and loving, and let the meter readers worry about who is parking illegally?” That second response has actually softened how I behave toward others, and while I would like the initial response to be better, I think I’m moving in the right direction.
Just some thoughts on an issue that is very challenging for me. Thank you for walking this journey openly, vulnerably, and authentically. Though I know I don’t travel it alone, it helps to be reminded that there are loving companions within reach. I appreciate your willingness to bypass easy platitudes in order to get to the really difficult and awkward stuff. Grace finds it roots and thrives there.