“Do Not Judge!” (Oh,But I Do…)

The older I get, the more I understand that any rule I am given out of concern for my own well-being, is worth taking a second look at.  Especially because such rules, at first glance, are ridiculously easy to understand, (i.e., go on green, stop on red), but many more, while just as easy to comprehend are far more difficult to carry out  (i.e., while I understand a speed limit of 55 mph means that 55 mph should be my maximum speed for the safety of myself and those around me, I very often go 60 mph because that is the speed that I deem will keep me “safe” from getting a speeding ticket).   Such rules, then, as we grow more confident and comfortable with the intention of them, quickly become something we dub to be “rules of thumb” rather than “hard and fast” rules (i.e., don’t drink and drive).

Many of the rules that Jesus gives us can begin the same way:   easy to understand, but difficult to follow.  Most recently, I came across this passage in my Bible study class on the Gospel of Matthew:  “Do not judge” (Mt 7:1).  And upon reading this, I was hit with two thoughts:  Yikes!  That sounds impossible!   and almost at the same time:   Thank goodness I don’t judge people as much as some people I know!  (Read that sentence again if you missed the irony of it).

The truth is that both of my reactions to this rule are just that:  reactions.  And reactions,  by their very nature, don’t take into account the larger picture of the reason for the rule.  Reactions don’t cast light on the myriad of ways in which we judge others, ourselves, and even God.   In fact, because I was so busy reacting, it wasn’t until I read the passage a second time that I was even able to comprehend the rest of the sentence–the part that  explains WHY we shouldn’t judge– “so that you may not be judged.” (Mt 7:1)

I was reminded then of how, years earlier, I’d made a Lenten promise to “give up” my sins of judgment and jealousy.  Now, I knew this would be a challenge, but I thought I could at least go a day or two before I would really be tested in the process of “giving them up.”  Much as He always does, though, God had other plans.

Ash Wednesday morning, (a.k.a. the FIRST DAY of Lent), I had a petty thought about a friend of mine:  I immediately “predicted” she would fail to “properly observe” the Holy Day by wiping off the ashes on her forehead after attending morning Mass.  (As Catholics, we are taught from a young age that doing so is a big “no-no”).  I’m embarrassed for having entertained this thought now on so many levels, but at the time, I didn’t see my “prediction” as a judgment at all.   I merely saw it as a “logical prediction of future behavior based on past behavior” and all but accepted it as “fact.”   Later that day, when I bumped into my friend,  I was shocked to see the ashes still on her forehead.   Shocked only because I’d been proven wrong.

After some introspection, (a.k.a. an inner tantrum-throwing fit whereby I attempted to vehemently defend my inexcusable judgment of my friend to God), I was able to be grateful for the gift of having been shown my fault.  If my friend had behaved as I’d expected, I would likely have been able to go the course of the entire day patting myself on the back for having successfully “given up” my sins by having made no judgments at all.  It was only in being proven wrong, that my eyes were opened to the fact that I’d judged my friend.

To this day, I think that being wrong about such a “prediction”  of my friend’s behavior on the first day of Lent was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  I shudder to think about how long it may have taken me to realize that I was judging someone else if my “prediction” had been “right.”

To Everything There Is a Season

My kids are back in school, so it’s time for me to turn my attention to my “other children.”  (This blog and our Golden Retriever who is kindly warming my feet).    And since figuring out where to start is often one of the toughest parts of the battle for writing, I’ve decided I’m going to start with a list to get us warmed up for another season of blogging.  These are some of the things I’ve learned, pondered and/or questioned at any given point this summer.

In no particular order, here they are:

1.  I’m no spring chicken.  The much-anticipated 4-0 is awaiting me at the tail end of this year (December 29th if you’d like to mark your calendars :)) and thoughts of my own mortality have been oddly comforting as I approach this infamous milestone.   I hope to write more about my thoughts on this in the days and weeks ahead,  so I’ll stop with that in an effort to not steal any “thunder” from anything I may want to say on this matter down the road, but for now let me share with you what is to many people a newsflash as they hit this 4-0 milestone:  Some day I will be dead.  And the humor of it, of course, is that in fact this shouldn’t really be a newsflash at all.   Still,  there’s something about this particular milestone–at least in America–(Something tells me not all cultures around the globe have as much of a hang-up about this particular age.  Hmm…but do all cultures have a “mid-life number”?  I’ll have to look into that…)  that forces most of us to really begin to personalize this reality.  I think many of us to tend to think and say from an early age that “all people die someday.”  But there’s something about 40 (in America) that makes us suddenly sit upright, gasp inward and say for the first time, “Oh, wait!  You mean ME, too?”

2.  Sometimes distance is good for a relationship.  I think you all know by now that I’m a stay-at-home mom.  I have been since the moment my oldest son was placed in my arms 12 years and 4 months ago.  Sometimes when I say this, mothers who work outside the home feel guilty about all the things they (think they’ve) missed by not staying home every moment of the day with their kids.  And sometimes it makes people downright irritated to  think about how “easy” I’ve got it that I’ve gotten to lounge around all day for the last 12 years (and 4 months).  While I’m currently happy with my “career” choice, I would like to enlighten everyone with a dose of reality here.  I spent my days of summer at home with three children (two “tween” boys and a grade-school aged daughter) while my husband worked 12 – 14 hour days (this equals three meals a day, every day, without Dad).  My kids have been in school for a day and a half now and I can honestly say that I have never loved them more.  Something about getting to say goodbye to them in the morning and hello again to them in the evening has brought us all a bit closer.

3.   God can handle some distance.   The Christian God is a Triune God — Father, Son and Spirit –two of these three God-persons are familial (family like).  To me, this means that our relationship with God is often going to be like our relationships with other family members.  Sometimes we’re head over heels, sometimes we’re just not feeling it.  I think what matters most is not that we never leave, but that we come back, otherwise the story of the Prodigal Son would have far less meaning.  After all, isn’t it the son who never leaves who is the most bitter in the end?

4. Talking about God is not the same as talking to God.  Duh.  I know.  This really shouldn’t be much of a newsflash, but the truth is it is highly tempting for me to talk a lot about God.  To think a lot about God.  To talk and think about how God interacts in my life.  And in yours.  I make these observations often.  But I seem to have stopped the flow from observation to action.  The appropriate action after making these observations, it seems, would be to say, “Thank you”  or “I love you” or “You amaze me.”  But I confess that I find those words or any similar words that would indicate an active relationship with God have been less present over this past summer than they have in months and years past.  Still, somehow it’s all good.  (And if that seems like a contradiction see #4).

5.  My dog is an amazing spiritual advisor.  I am fortunate enough to have in my life a competent, wise and well-seasoned spiritual advisor (shout out to Sister B here! :)), but I can’t be on the phone with her every minute of every hour (and trust me, I’ve tried!)  In her absence, my dog has stepped up to this challenge.  Now I love my dog very much and he’s very special to me but I bet he’s really no more special in the spiritual arena than your own dog.  Wanna know how to take in the world around you using all your senses?  Observe your dog.  Wanna know how to live in the moment?  Observe your dog.  Wanna know how to forgive?  Observe your dog.  Wanna know how to trust?  Observe your dog.  Wanna know how to let go?  Observe your dog.  If you spend enough time observing your dog, you may very likely find some wisdom to apply to your own personal journey (but you should be able to skip the monthly de-wormer and flea dip!)

6.  If you try to give all of yourself to God, the hardest part of all is not to take any of it back.  Perhaps some of you remember my attempt to “give up myself for Lent” last spring.  How’s that workin’ for me, you ask?  Well…probably about as well as you’d imagine.  It’s a daily struggle and I think in many ways I’ve failed.  Miserably.  Still, I smile at my valiant attempt and I’ve learned much along the way.  I trust that God knew all along this is how it would turn out, and perhaps in my zeal for A New Life of Joy, God is simply trying to tell me there were parts of me he wasn’t done with yet.   I’m OK with that.

These thoughts and many more are what kept my summer busy, though I wasn’t writing them down.  Instead, I tried to enjoy the time with my kids at home (plus, it was just really hard to get anything done with them here!) and I trust that anything that was important to me then, will come back to my memory to share with you in the near future.

I hope you enjoyed your summer, too, and I’m glad to be back sorting through the muck and miracles of my life in print.

Most of all, in case I never said it earlier, I appreciate so much that you’ve taken the time to share (and comment on) it with me!