No Fear New Year, (Judge Not)
One day in seventh grade, I dashed from my seat when the bell rang; presumably because I was in a hurry. Unfortunately, I tripped and overturned a metal podium, which landed quite painfully on my teacher’s leg. Sadly, Sister, who was elderly and had old ways of handling things, grabbed my ponytail and swung my head back and forth a few times without giving me time to apologize. I stewed about this injustice all day and went home and asked my mom to call the principal and “get her in trouble.”
I was met with further disappointment. My mother’s reply acknowledged that Sister was wrong to hurt me, but she also asked me to think about how much I must have hurt Sister's leg. Maybe her leg was already in pain, maybe she was having a bad day and being hit by the podium brought out her worst. I had no sympathy. Mom assured me if it happened again she would call the principal but, in the meantime, she insisted I give Sister the benefit of the doubt.
During this month, the phrase Judge Not has been ringing in my ears. Because of my experience in spiritual direction, I considered the possibility of God’s call in this. I began to pay close attention to my thoughts and discovered that despite many good lessons from my childhood, it’s very easy for me to jump to a conclusion about who a person is by witnessing a single behavior, or worse, after hearing about one.
I was surprised to catch myself at first in a single judgment. But after a little while, I was catching a string of judgments, sometimes one right after the other. They ranged from petty judgments about other people and how they live, to severe ones about their very nature. I was sorry and surprised. I naively thought I was free from judging others, because of my upbringing. (The above lesson was not singular).
The Root of Judgment
Clearly, the Holy Spirit called me to have a look at judgment in my life. When I really looked at my judgment of others, and lingered there, I found fear resting at the foundation of it all.
I contemplated what types of fear are often at the root of judgment.
The fear of embarrassment: “I can’t face my own shortcomings, so I distract myself by judging another’s.”
The fear of change: “It’s easier to harshly judge a new idea than it is to entertain my adaptation to it.”
The fear of the unknown: “It’s easier to judge someone whose way of life is different from mine than it is to face the uneasiness of being out of my comfort zone.”
The fear of being wrong: “If I judge the mistakes of others, maybe it will lessen or even erase my own.”
The fear of weakness: “It’s easier to judge someone harshly, than to admit I am frightened by or hurt by their actions.”
After some time, I noticed my fears can be camouflaged by some of these judgments. This list isn’t exhaustive. If you can think of other roots to judgment, please share in the comments.
It was easier for me to assume Sister was bad to the core than trust that she is a good person behaving badly. When forced to give her the benefit of the doubt, I had to entertain the possibility of forgiving her. What seventh grade girl wants to forgive someone who humiliated her in front of the class? But my mom’s insistence gave me little choice.
The end of the story is that for the remainder of the school year, and even prior to that day, I never witnessed Sister behave badly again. I have long forgiven Sister and even feel sympathy for the pain I must have caused her leg. Today, I even tell the story with laughter. What a gift my mother gave me. By insisting I not judge “my enemy” she provided an opportunity for me to heal before the wound became infected and too big for me to handle.
Without healing, anger stews, grudges deepen, discrimination broadens, prejudices fester, and spiritual freedom is halted. When my soul naturally cries for oneness and forgiveness, judgment sends me in the direction of division and hard heartedness. It is a keen awareness that both smarts and excites my spirit. On the one hand, it is hard for me to recognize the ugliness of judgment in me, but on the other hand, my awareness will ultimately lead to an opportunity to free my spirit of this fear-laden obstacle.
The Art of Letting Go
Such freedom heals most wounds which brings us to an authentic self, namely, the pure self created by God. It’s clear that living in harmony with my creator’s intentions provides a deep and abiding happiness. So in my mind, this judgmentalism is a direct obstacle to God and happiness.
However, connecting the foundational fear to this obstacle puts me in a familiar place and creates a certain ease within me. Since my No Fear New Year began (really in October) I find myself happy to tackle every fear I encounter. After all, the origin of this journey began with the urging of Jesus and my promise in kind. I’m bolstered by this covenant.
A short three step method has evolved from this exploration:
First, when I catch myself in judgment I call it what it is: Fear.
Second, I ask myself, what am I afraid of right now? I haven't forgotten the value of
Third, I call on God: please forgive me Lord and help me let go of this judgment.
So, rather than attack my fear, I let go of its residual effect, judgmental thinking. The fears then have nothing to hide behind. As I mentioned in my last article, bringing dark things to light almost always lessens them.
These three steps happen very quickly now, in the course of a breath, because of what I have learned and practiced since beginning spiritual direction. I have learned to recognize stirrings within me and respond in partnership with God. My sessions in spiritual direction have been invaluable of course, but my spiritual director and I both know that the real partnership is with God.
I never expected my No Fear New Year to bring me to this place of awareness and clarity. I see this as an abundant gift from God. From a God who wants my wholeness as much, if not more, than I do. My trust in God is also fortified when I remember that this project started with an unhappy memory in my life. It’s the ultimate “lemons into lemonade" scenario. This, in my opinion, is a great way to define mercy and God’s way of delivering it.
I am happy to receive it but feel sure that God’s mercy is far reaching. Are you sensing God's invitation to mercy? I hope my sharing encourages you to take the leap and have a look at whatever it is. In my experience, it’s worth it.