Friday, May 11, 2012

Judge not — easier said than done

Matthew 7:1-12

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
One of the least pleasant parts of parenting is feeling the eyes of the world upon you as you deal with your children’s worst moments in public. The kid is screaming, perhaps the parent is screaming right back. You’re embarrassed at the way your child is behaving, and perhaps even more embarrassed at your own behavior in response. It’s as close as you can get to an out-of-body experience, almost as if you can see yourself making one mistake after another, then passing the same judgment on yourself as you assume the innocent bystanders are making concurrently.

We’ve all been the bystander as well, too. When it’s just someone else’s kid mouthing off or throwing a tantrum of whining to no end, the guilty first thought is to be glad it’s not your kid. Then you selfishly take pleasure in the reminder you are not the only one whose child carries on in public. Eventually you come around to sympathy for your brother or sister in parenthood (providing they’re keeping their cool), though you would never reach out to them in solidarity because the last thing you’d want if you were in their shoes is for another living soul to acknowledge the scene.

When both parent and child are teetering on the brink, you can’t help but stay aware of the situation, just in case something gets out of hand. Never mind you having no idea what you’d actually do if a line is crossed. But sometimes the parenting instinct extends beyond your own offspring. I’m fortunate to be unable to recall witnessing any incidents that escalated beyond this point, but I know I’ve been close enough to feel myself tensing up in anticipation.

Yet all of those comparisons pale in comparison to the perception of being judged as a parent by those close to you. I think Kristie and I have been blessed to have a supportive family that has given us the space to raise our kids our way. They let us make and learn from our own mistakes. They willingly adapt to our practices that may seem peculiar to them because they respect our roles as mom and dad. They give advice when asked and don’t try to force us to change against our will. Surely there have been a few times where someone has chimed in with a well-intentioned thought, but never anything that caused any real discord. Maybe I’m sugarcoating it, but I really feel we’ve got it pretty good so far.

I wish all young parents could have the same support from grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on. We both have heard stories of other parents who are not so lucky. When parents feel attacked like this — especially from people who are supposed to be on their side — the circle grows tighter and people who should be helping end up on the outside looking in. In the worst cases, the children get put in the middle. These stories break my heart.

Yet while this knowledge mostly keeps me from judging others for their parenting choices, it does not keep me from judging all sorts of people for all manner of inappropriate reasons. Mostly it’s strangers or people I don’t know well. I judge based on how people dress, how they speak, how they spend their money, whether or not they appear “genuine,” whatever that means. I am not one to condemn another for their sin, but I still feel bad about silently making decisions about other people based on nothing but a brief observation. Maybe it’s human nature, but I really wish I could be better at accepting everyone.

When a child judges, especially one with a good vocabulary, they don’t keep it internal. “Hey Dad, that lady is fat.” “Hey mom, why does that guy have purple hair?” “That kid is pretty weird.” “I don’t like you.” It’s one thing to teach a kid to keep those thoughts to himself, or to explain to them how the other people might have the same feelings about them. It’s quite another to try to teach a kid to not have those thoughts in the first place, especially when the parent struggles mightily with the same issue.

When my children’s failings mirror my own, I cannot escape my role in imprinting such behavior. I can only hope to address my own issues and hope they will grow with me.

A prayer for May 11:

Lord, I come to you broken. I am far from living a life worthy of you, and I am not the kind of person I want my children to become. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to reflect on my life and pledge to use the chance to commit myself to growing in faith and encountering my sin. I am awed by your promise to forgive and unable to adequately thank you for redemption through Christ’s sacrifice. You are amazing and wonderful, and I am ever grateful for your presence in my life. Amen.

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