A friend of mine recently used an annoying psychological test to evaluate my strengths and weaknesses. Most of the results could have been predicted by anyone who knows me. Although we all like to think that we are deeper than deep, that we have more gifts than common folk, and that we hide our weaknesses well, we are fooling ourselves.
One thing really did surprise me– that my need for independence was exceptionally, off the charts, high. Would it surprise my family and friends? I’ll have to ask them sometime, but I doubt it. What didn’t shock me was that I have a tendency to be a mite…critical.
Putting people in mental boxes gives closure. And I like rapid closure, so that I can get on with my very important plans. If someone hurts me-or at the very least- doesn’t help me, he becomes the bad guy. So once my rapid assessment is made, once the needle moves to “He’s an idiot”, I’ll just move on- without him. But there’s always a moment, between the criticism and the dismissal, where if I listen, I’ll hear a “What now?”. Like a warning bell, “What now?” reminds me to slow down, calm down, and admit that I don’t know everything. And sometimes, when I look closer, I find a truth that stuns me; that makes me less prone to be self-righteous, callous, or impatient.
A Jewish nurse found an elderly patient sobbing one day. When questioned, all the old lady would say was, “They won’t give me any bread. They won’t give me any bread.” Apparently, this was not a new grievance; the staff had learned to ignore it. Noting that the patient looked well fed and alert, the nurse found this perplexing. Then she had an idea. “What kind of bread won’t they let you have?” she asked. The patient took a deep breath and explained, “They won’t let me have challah bread for the Sabbath, and I only need a small piece.” Enlightened, the nurse found a bakery, bought a little challah, and soothed a soul. Unwilling to label her patient’s request as a senile perseverance, she paused between criticism and dismissal.
How easy it is to let criticism have the last word! Mentally celebrating labels like : “senile”, “selfish”, “hypocritical”, “arrogant”, “shallow”, “vain”, “touchy”, and allowing them to stand as symbols for human beings makes severing relationships all too easy. John Ortberg writes: “One of the ministries to which I am called is to free people- repeatedly if necessary- from the little mental prisons to which I consign them.” But aren’t people senile, selfish, hypocritical, arrogant, shallow, vain, and touchy sometimes? Of course. But there is always so much that we don’t know.
Jesus’ command “Do not judge and you will not be judged“, is found sandwiched between “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful“, and “Give, and it will be given to you“. A merciful impulse can overpower a judgemental attitude and generate gifts that bless.
Maybe I should put my “off the chart” longing for independence to good use- in choosing mercy over judgement. All I have to lose is my self-righteousness.