Learning how not to judge has been the most demanding, arduous and painful spiritual discipline I have ever undertaken. It’s also been the most fruitful. I could probably write books and books filled with stories and lessons I would never have encountered if I had not made a commitment to practicing this discipline.
While most people probably don’t think of not judging as a spiritual discipline, this is exactly how I’ve practiced it. It’s something I do out of obedience and discipline, even when I don’t feel like it or it seems pointless. It’s a conscious practice I have chosen to engage in and must make an effort to do.
Not judging is like loving unconditionally in that people who have never really tried doing it assume it’s an easy, comfortable and safe thing to do. The truth is it’s unbelievably challenging. Most people can’t even manage it when someone cuts them off in traffic.
Sometimes not judging is freeing, like when your willingness not to judge allows you to make peace with things about the world that you cannot change. Like a women you read about in the news with a few baby daddies. Or a son who hopes to one day marry another man. Your past perhaps.
What is much harder is to avoid judging someone who is doing something which hurts others or which violates a principle you hold dear. To do this, you have to take God at his word and accept that while a person’s heart can be evil, only God can make that call.
At the core, what not judging teaches is the extent to which we don’t know enough to judge. Because unless we know a person intimately, understanding the evil and suffering they have endured, see the wounds they carry and how they affect them, we can’t even begin to make an informed judgment of them as a human being. Judging is God’s job, because only God can see the reality of any human being clearly enough to do so.
If we do not let go of our judgment, we will never learn the things we need to learn in order to love properly. Because once we judge someone, we cut ourselves off from them. Most people instinctively recoil from being judged and set about hiding those parts of themselves which they fear will be judged. Which means we will be judging them without ever having seen the reality of who they are.
We won’t take them seriously because we think of them as fundamentally flawed and therefor untrustworthy. So any attempts on their part to move past your judgment will almost certainly fail. We’ll always see them as defined by their sins and failures. But we won’t have a clue what it is that God sees when he looks at them and declares them worth dying for.
Sometimes it hurts to not judge. When it means accepting that you are wrong or that your priorities don’t run the universe or that the only answer to wrong done to you is to forgive. If you don’t run into your Daddy’s arms for comfort, correction and assurances at those times, you’ll quit. Sometimes not judging requires overcoming your most basic training about disgust and purity. Not judging means you don’t let fear be the rule voice in your head. Not judging means taking your place as one struggling human alongside 7 billion other struggling humans, each one worth dying for.
But if you refrain from judging, people can open up to you. They can share their stories and you can allow them to become real to you. You begin to understand why people do the things they do. You begin to understand the burdens they carry and the demons they fight. You start to understand that when you meet someone who seems to have no good in their heart, you are meeting someone whose demons overwhelmed them.
As it turns out, the process of learning to not judge people is the process of learning to see human beings through the eyes of God. You gain an appreciation for the strength and wisdom that people carry with them. And you will recognize God in people you would be judged simply for associating with.
If you are lucky and you practice not judging faithfully, you will meet brothers and sisters in the most unexpected places. People who know God the way you do, despite being so flawed and damaged that only other seriously flawed, damaged people will tolerate them. These may turn out to be the only people who will love and care for you when the good people of the world have all turned their backs. They may be the people who accept you at your worst and whose admiration helps you discover how precious you are at your best. they may turn out to be the only people strong enough to walk alongside you when your turn to carry your cross comes.
Perhaps God will even go so far as to reveal himself through some of these people. And it may well turn out that what he reveals through such a person is what you hang onto when the dark night of the soul has just about broken you. Then, but probably only then, will you will finally understand why Jesus tells us to do such a foolish, dangerous thing as learning not to judge.
Or at least that’s how it’s worked out for me.