Me and That Judging Thing

I’ve written a couple of times about what I call “the hardest, best spiritual discipline I’ve ever tried” – that being not judging. Now, this is not something that came naturally to me, to say the least. I’ve always been pretty tolerant and laid-back, but let’s face it; some people are idiots. Some situations are so ridiculous that you pretty much have to be in a permanently drug-addled state not to look at them and say, “really? WTF is wrong with you people?” There’s a reason that, despite Jesus’ rather point-blank instructions, even the most devoted Christians equivocate when it comes to not judging others.

But, as I explained before, I decided a couple of years ago to treat Jesus’ instruction as a spiritual discipline – something I do out of faithfulness, whether I want to or not, even when I have every reason not to and when it seems pointless. Far from the claims of those who think that not judging is easy, not judging is extraordinarily hard. Most of us can’t even manage it while sitting in traffic.

So it’s been a real struggle to let go of my urge to judge and just be open to learning and loving instead. Often it’s something that I have to turn to God in prayer in order to accomplish. But slowly and surely, God has used my willingness to withhold judgment to teach me about his judgment.

You see, our judgment is easy. It comes automatically and is so obvious that any fool can learn it. Some things are right and some things are wrong. My 5 year old knows it. Our judgment and our ability to point out right and wrong hardly need to be taught, they come so easily to us. As attached as we are to our human judgments, they really are no more useful or impressive than being able to stick out your tongue and spit.

By withholding judgment, I open the door to allowing God to show me how his judgment works. And his judgment is a much more complicated affair than mine, it turns out. As God says to Samuel, “people look at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” God knows what a heart has been through better than the owner of that heart does. God also knows the role that a person has to play in the grand scheme of things. We do not. God knows both the harm done and the unexpected opportunities created by even the worst actions.

We are told not to judge, it turns out, because we simply are not capable of it. No matter how easy, obvious and even necessary our judgment seems to us. It turns out that the sheer volume of information and complexity that God knows and understands simply boggles the mind. These days, when the urge to judge hits me, I find myself almost afraid. I still have my own opinions and feelings about things, but I no longer have any desire to turn them into declarations about another person that ought to carry any weight beyond the confines of my own skull.

And when God does judge, it is a mighty and a frightful thing. To stand before the one who made the universe and be faced with the reality of both the good and evil of one’s life and being carries with it such weight that I am astounded now that I ever even tried to do it.  The task of judging is so far beyond us and our limited abilities that if we understood just how inadequate we are to the task, we would feel like a person pulled off the street being asked to perform a life saving operation on an infant. Some things are too big even for me.

Except when it comes to this one person . . .

There is one person who I have held as exempt from my little “don’t judge” spiritual discipline. Who I have felt free to judge as good or bad and whose very life story I have been continually passing judgment on with abandon. And further, I have discovered that my ongoing judgment of this person and her life is very deeply entwined with my ongoing struggle to trust God and live fully in the fruits of the Spirit, as is my right and inheritance as a child of God.

It turns out that as much as I have learned by refraining from judging others, it really matters very little because all the while, I have continued to judge myself. I continue to look at my own life and declare it broken and in need of fixing. I am forever taking each event, each action, each need or pain or achievement and putting them on the little scales of my own mind to weigh in order to understand myself and my own life as either good or bad. Damaged beyond repair or a work in process. Irretrievably broken or inspirationally triumphant. And it’s been killing me.

Like a lot of us, I have this tendency to absorb the negative voices around me and other people’s negative judgments of my life. So in order to combat those voices, I developed a habit of creating a counter-narrative that highlights what is good about me and my life. The negative voices say that I am lazy, so I keep track of what I accomplish in order to prove to myself that it’s not true. Someone told me that I am indulgently wasting my life raising my kids rather than having a career, so I have a litany of reasons why simply being mom is enough. Someone told me that my life is a tragic, pitiful waste and, well, I’m still working out my defense against that one. But back and forth it goes. Sometimes the positive view wins for a moment, but it’s a continual battle. It never stops.

Recently I was talking to a friend and I had lapsed into my habitual defense of myself, against myself and my friend stopped me and said, “you don’t have to prove yourself.” And like truth sometimes does, it got through my defenses and hit me square in the heart. Because something very deep in me does feel like I have to prove myself. Like I do have to mount a defense against the accusations and judgments that come my way and get nurtured in my own head.

I mean, I know in my head that I am justified and don’t have to justify myself. I know that I don’t need to defend myself. But I want to. I want to prove that I am good enough. I want to prove that I am worthy. I want to prove that those who stand in judgment of me are wrong. Because I think I can. I think that if I don’t, I might get a technical pass because Jesus died for my sins, but really, we all know that it’s just a technicality. A pretty gloss covering what I’m afraid looks like an ugly reality. I don’t just want a pretty gloss; I want a beautiful reality. And I’m going to figure out a way to prove to myself, if not to anyone else, that me and my life are good enough. I am trying to do for myself what Jesus has already done for me. And unsurprisingly, my way has brought nothing but death to my spirit.

So now God is telling me to lay down my defenses. To stop trying to prove that I and my life are good and worthy enough – even to myself. To accept that even though it’s my own life and my own being, I really don’t have the ability or the right to make such a judgment. I do not know what God knows. I cannot see the full breath or meaning of my life anymore than I can see the full breath and meaning of someone else’s life.

What I am realizing, as I try to let go of my judgment of myself, is that when I am engaging in my back-and-forth accusation and defense of myself, is that I am denying what God has already said about me and my life. By continually judging myself, I am giving power to the lies and accusations the enemy has cast at me, no matter how often I raise a defense and convince myself that I am OK.

That’s why the battle never ends. I am viewing the value and worth of my life as an open question that I am responsible for answering. And it’s just not so. It wasn’t an open question on the day I was born and it’s not an open question today. As has so often been the case with me, I could see this in other people long before it even dawned on me to see it in myself. So now, I hope and pray and trust, that God will help me apply what I have learned from not judging others to myself.

11 thoughts on “Me and That Judging Thing

  1. Hey Rebecca, glad to have you back on the train of writing and posting some interesting stuffs. I can relate with some many thing you wrote up there. One of the thing I’ve been trying and doing lately is to not “clear” people’s assumptions of me. Yea, the word “Judge Not” “Sowing and Reaping” becomes a defense mechanism by which I’m trying to channel my energy into what God has already done on my behalf. I know it isn’t that easy when face with the opposition that seems to be saying stuff about you and judging you wrongly, the urge to defend oneself set in, and chasing of the wind becomes the order of the day. So, I’m resting daily in what Christ has done for me and taking it easy also with myself without passing judgment on myself which I will later reap the resultant effects.

    Judge Not is my defence. But, I’m still learning how to not voice my opinion out every now and then.

    Thanks for sharing this, it encourages me a lot.

  2. An inspired re-translation of the famed “judge not” verse paints a different picture to the otherwise impossible decree. “Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.” JST Matt. 7:1–2

    We can learn that there are final judgments, which are forbidden, and intermediary judgments, which are commanded. A very interesting article on the topic:

    1. Anyone with a strong judgmental drive might be inclined to consider that translation “inspired”. But what was it ‘inspired’ by, other than some translator’s need to justify his own judgmental proclivities?

      As a poet, I’ve needed to read “inspired” as a very distant concept from ‘infallible.’ Some of my most inspired writings still need editing.

      “Judge not, lest you be judged,” strikes squarely at that so-called ‘knowledge’ of “Good and Evil” which is our chief legacy of The Fall.

      1. Indeed, ‘inspired’ does not equate with ‘infallible.’ Yet, to those familiar with the JST selected translation of the Bible, they would be aware the inspiration came not from a mere translator, but a prophet. Whether one accepts that as true or not is irrelevant. The point to be made is that the ‘inspired’ version meshes much better with the OT “but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour” (Lev. 19:15).

      2. “Prophet” may have been a sort of divine office back in the day… but now it’s more of a function than a rank; everyone gets that same access to The Big Guy; and the chief difference between one person’s evaluation of an interpretation and another’s — looks to be a matter of: ‘What message is each person best ready to digest at this stage in their development?’

        A legal code that ranked the consumption of shellfish as ‘an abomination’ may have suited the needs of that time and place — And it makes sense to respectfully consider anything once considered a divine Commandment, in terms of: ‘Who was it intended to apply to, in what circumstances, for how long?’

        We may still need to fairly evaluate our neighbor’s conduct and whether our relationship to them needs tinkering; but the best sense of how to deal with a situation — since we are never, in our finite capacities, aware of the full circumstances and meaning of someone’s behavior, a prayer for guidance makes a lot more sense.

      3. Curious to know how you got from “back in the day” to “but now.” What changed? Did not everyone have access to The Big Guy then? Did God do away with prophets and apostles? Isn’t God the same yesterday, today, and forever? You sound authoritative in your dismissal of God’s organizational structure, but I am failing to see from where that authority comes!

        Nevertheless, let’s remember to “judge not unrighteously… but judge righteous judgment” by refraining from final judgments and making correct intermediary judgments.

      4. It is clear to anyone who reads the Bible critically that God does not have a preferred organizational structure for human beings, but will help people organize for common purposes, in ways that suit the conditions of the time. In Samuel’s day this was rule via theocratic tribal custom; in David’s time a monarchy with a standing army suited the conditions that Israel then faced.

        Currently, people have come to accept the possibility of each being directly governed by God, organizing flexibly between each other in different ways for different purposes. In former days, hierarchy suited people better, for such purposes as military defense and exploiting the peasantry; and the only forms of religion that could flourish then were those which supported and endorsed the prevailing system. By now, such human-made arrangements have clearly become dysfunctional — and the direct Reign of God that Jesus’ way of ruling implied has become far easier to accept, not because God has changed but because people and our living conditions have.

        Belief may not change what’s possible; it does change what people are willing to try.

    2. Thank you for your interesting comments. I’ve enjoyed reading your conversation with my friend Forrest (aka Treegestalt). The thing for me is that what you describe was pretty much my starting point in my journey; I knew that I did not have the final say when it came to judging, but figured that short of that, calling a spade a spade was completely reasonable and often beneficial if not outright required. But as time went on, it became clearer and clearer to me that my intermediate judgments were pretty much pointless. What I thought of people and their behavior contributed exactly nothing to changing anything and frequently just interfered with relationships and caused emotional harm to people who were sometimes already all jacked up. Eventually, I felt lead to give up judging altogether, to the best of my ability. And here’s the rub; choosing to let go of even my intermediary judgments turned out to be one of the most spiritually, relationally and personally beneficial things I have ever done. I have learned and grown as a human being and a Christian in ways I could hardly dream of as the result of this one seemingly foolish change. I simply cannot recommend it strongly enough to anyone who takes their Christian walk seriously. Jesus says that we can know a thing by its fruit. So, while I will continue to refrain from judging people, to the best of my ability, with God’s help, I will go out on a limb and make the judgment call that following the simple advice of Jesus to refrain from judging is God’s desire for us. Nothing that is not true to God’s desires could possibly bear fruit as good as this practice has produced in my life. Peace! 🙂

  3. Hi there. There’s some good stuff here. Just wondered how or what you would say to a woman that’s verbally or emotionally abused? She’s heard the judgmental lies over & over to a point where she believes them, or where she’s fighting in her mind & heart to not believe the lies & stand up for herself. Or the young mother who innocently married a narcissist & struggles to find any balance in her life. These are extreme situations but vey real & alive in this fallen world. Not to judge yourself when you e been brainwashed to think negatively of yourself. Yes, you are a believer, you read & pray but you are entangled in a web you can’t get out of and the negative words drag you down to where you are frozen & stuck.
    What are your thoughts on this?

    1. Oh, you’re talking about me, hon. Well, my husband’s not so bad, but he’s very bad at affirmation and kind of wound up in his own issues, so he’s not much help either. I will be honest and tell you that it took a long time to get to the point where I was when I wrote this. And I don’t know any shortcuts. But that whole thing where I built a defense of myself against myself was an essential part of the journey. It’s just that it was a tool which had outlived its usefulness, and needed to be put down so God could show me a better way. But probably the biggest thing for me was to notice and hang onto any positive feedback I got from others. To recognize that people really mean them and it was wrong for me to keep swatting them away. And to give myself credit for what I did right. I went for a while where I would actually sit down and write out a daily list of everything I did right or had accomplished that day – without any editorializing. That was really helpful for me personally.

      But if you or someone you know are dealing with one of these extreme situations, I would strongly recommend ordering a copy of my book The Upside Down World’s Guide to Enjoying the Hard Life. Like I said, the person you are describing is me. I grew up with really extreme abuse which left me with zero self-confidence and a variety of mental health issues which made life very difficult. The book is a series of very short essays which cover many of the ideas, tools and exercises I used to recover so I could start to enjoy my life and be at home with myself. You can buy a copy on Amazon for $6.

Leave a Reply to John D Cancel reply