One of the sins I struggle with is judgmentalism.
Perhaps we all have it to a certain extent, but I have it in spades. I am constantly having to remind myself that I should not judge, for I too have faults. And I should not expect people who are not Christians to behave as if they were.
And this time of year is especially difficult for me, because of Father’s Day. We had a wonderful Sunday celebrating with my husband and my father-in-law, with lots of card games, laughter, and barbecues to go around.
Nevertheless, I know that many did not have such good days, because the dads in their lives walked out on them. They had affairs on their wives. They abandoned their kids. I struggle when I think of these men.
It reminds me of a wedding I was at when I had to leave early because I had such a visceral judgmental reaction. The wedding was for two people who were closer to my husband than they were to me. While they were smiling and walking down the aisle, all I could think about was the fact that a year and a half earlier the bride had aborted their baby because she was still in school, and they wanted to finish their degrees first.
As I was seething in the pews of that church, I was also pregnant with my son, whom we knew had a serious heart defect, and whom we knew would likely not live long when he was born. We had been pressured to abort, and yet did not, because we wanted to give our baby whatever life we could.
That made the stark choice of abortion all the more vivid to me.
And as I was thinking these thoughts, there was this couple, grinning from ear to ear, enjoying the wedding they wanted now that they both had landed jobs after they had received their diplomas. They had lived together for years, had aborted their baby, and had done everything so that their lives could be as convenient as possible.
And what was worse, to me, was that she had not kept the abortion secret. She had told people proudly that she was exercising her right to choose, so that she would not be burdened with a baby when she was not ready.
That was about fifteen years ago; I have no idea what has happened to that couple, or if they have gone on to have other children. Yet I have always almost hated that woman. At the time I refused to stay for the dance, and demanded that my husband take me home, because the thought of her being so happy after she had sacrificed everything that was good and pure on the altar of convenience made me physically ill.
I am not proud of my reaction
And yet I am getting the same tight feeling in my stomach when I think of that moment. I am not sure what I expected; did I want to hear remorse from her in her wedding speech? Did I want her to look miserable? Obviously the emotion I was feeling was not due to her. I was projecting on to this woman for reasons of my own that I still have not entirely figured out.
Perhaps it was easier to project because I did not really know this woman on a personal basis, and everything I did know about her was in such contrast to my own values that it was hard to feel any sense of comaraderie. Yet often it is in our deepest areas of pain that we are the most judgmental. I am most judgmental about men who leave their families, and about women who abort, because these are the big hurts in my life: a father deserting me; a baby I so desperately wanted dying. When others throw away what we would have done anything to keep, it makes us angry not primarily because of the hurt that they caused, but because we take it personally.
As much as we may be right in our assessment, though, we must stop this urge to personalize such sins. That couple did nothing against me; what they did was against God and against their child. It was to God that they owed an apology, and not to me. Yet I was acting the part of God in that story, demanding a penance that was not really mine to receive.
I wonder how often this dynamic plays a part in our own families. I know that I am far more sensitive to when Keith does something that reminds me of a husband leaving, even if he has no intention of leaving. Early in our marriage, when we used to have fights, I told him in no uncertain terms that he was not allowed to leave the house to clear his head, even if it would help, because that would be hurtful to me. I would interpret it too much as what my father did–even though it was nothing close to it. Similarly, when I sense a rift developing between Rebecca, our 15-year-old, and Keith, I immediately lay all the blame at Keith’s feet and demand that he fix it, because I know what it is like to grow up a teen without a father. I am projecting onto Keith sins he has not committed, because they sit so close to the areas of my heart where the hurt is still a little raw.
Many people say judgmentalism is caused by pride
We think we are better than others. I think it is also caused by hurt. We are angry that things did not work out differently for ourselves, and when others seem to be replicating the problem, it is almost as if they are denying the hurt feelings that we ourselves have. The answer to judgmentalism, then, is not always to look at our own sin. I think sometimes it’s to look at our hurts. Take those hurts to God. Often we stop telling God what we’re really feeling because we’re afraid that if we start all this anger will come pouring out, and it won’t help anybody. We’ll never be able to stop. Yet we need to be honest with God. He knows what you’re feeling anyway, and He’s the only one who can wipe away the tears.
When we don’t go to God, we take it out on others. That pain is still there, and it is ugly and it is big and it won’t be silenced. If you won’t take it to God, it will emerge in obscure ways in anger; usually in the anger of judgment. You will start projecting onto others because that way you have a seemingly safe method of exorcising some of the pain. But it doesn’t work, because it doesn’t really get to the root.
If you find yourself overreacting in certain areas of your marriage, or overreacting with your kids, ask yourself if they’re touching a scab, or maybe even an open wound on your heart. And then ask God if He will start to heal that wound. Don’t be afraid to touch it. Sometimes healing hurts initially. The alternative, though, is to live with the pain. And to me, that’s not much of an alternative at all.