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.