There is a hard lesson that I have been learning lately. It has to do with judgment. There are some facts of life that are starting to come clear to me the older I get. There are realizations I am having about myself that are very humbling. I am discovering that life is not nearly as simple as I always thought it was.
As kids, teenagers, and into some of our adult years we see the world as black and white. Things are either right or wrong. The boundary lines are clear. Someone likes you or they don’t. A person is happy, sad, peaceful, or angry. A musician has talent or they don’t. People are either good or bad.
I am learning, however, that there is always so much more going on behind the scenes than we realize. As a teller, sometimes a customer will come into the bank talking on his cell phone and I immediately classify that person as rude and inconsiderate. What do I know about the situation or either person having the conversation? Maybe someone’s mother died or his wife just lost her job. How could I come to such a rash conclusion without truly knowing what is happening?
Sometimes I’m even tempted to judge people I spend a lot of time around, such as my coworkers. It is one thing to draw conclusions about someone I do not know; it is another matter entirely to think that I know someone I really do not. The truth is, no matter how well I think I know someone, there is always so much more that I am not aware of. They may be acting in a manner that totally offends me. How selfish is it to think that it is all about me? 99.9% of the time, it has nothing to do with me.
Life is not a straight-forward thing. No one gets it right every time. Sometimes, there is no right answer. Sometimes there is more than one. Sometimes good, better, or best are irrelevant; sometimes things are just the way they are, simple as that. I have learned that life is neither fair nor unfair. Life is just the way it is. I have stopped blaming it for my unhappiness.
Probably the most life-changing lessons I have learned lately have been inward realizations. I used to think that I was a pretty good person. I used to think that I was dependable, responsible, and trustworthy. I used to think in a prideful way that I was someone worth knowing because I had achieved a level of goodness that many had not. What I have realized lately is that I am just like everyone else. I have things that I am working through. I have weaknesses I battle every day. I am no different.
My cousin once said to me, “I have learned more from my failures than I have from my successes.” The more I think about this, the more I come to find it is true. When I look back over my life, especially in two significant ministry relationships, I can honestly say that I blew it. I can pinpoint specific things that I did that damaged greatly a trust I had been given. It seems to me that I should get better with time, but I am discovering this is not true. In some ways I feel that I am getting worse. I am discovering more and more every day that there are so many layers to myself. There’s so much more to me, good and bad, than I ever knew before.
As I grow older, the challenges I face grow bigger. Sometimes I want to say to life, “Slow down! I didn’t quite get the last lesson right! I’m not ready to move on to the next! Can we go over that one again?” It seems that every new step in the journey I feel even more unprepared for than I felt for the last one. I don’t know if I make more mistakes now than I used to or if I am just noticing them more. It seems every day I make bolder mistakes. I say something completely rude that in the past I would never have dreamed of saying. I gossip and I wonder what in the world would bring that out. I never used to do that. I talk badly about someone to my friends. I carry grudges and hold anger in my heart toward people. I am becoming far more judgmental of others rather than more understanding. Who is this person I am becoming? Is this the person I always was? Am I stepping backward in my growth process?
I have always longed for and sought to do good with my life. However, I am more and more aware every day of my capacity to do evil. Before long I find myself spiraling out of control, and I lay myself before the throne of God, begging for His grace, forgiveness, and mercy. Why is there so much bad in me? Where did all of this come from?
Paul wasn’t kidding when he said that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness. I understand now what it means to say that it is only by the grace of God I am anything. Without His strength and Holy Spirit in my life, I would continue to make bad decision after bad decision because that is my nature. I cannot be good without Him. There is no good in me apart from Him.
Probably one of the biggest learning experiences I have had occurred in the past few months. God led me to work with a group, and I pursued it enthusiastically. As time passed, and I sought to find my niche, I discovered that I could not find one. This was so confusing to me, because I knew that God had led me to this group. Eventually, after several doors closed, I finally sensed that God was leading me somewhere else. I made so many mistakes in the whole process, even though the intention of my heart was right. More than anything I wanted to follow God, and I believe that I did. However, in the process I demonstrated irresponsibility and poor leadership among other things. I lost the respect of someone I greatly admire because I did not handle the situation well. I learned that even though my heart was in the right place, my actions demonstrated my immaturity.
I could make a case that I am young and inexperienced. This is very true. I am only learning how to follow God. I stumbled around when I did not sense a clear direction. I fell down a couple times, and it is tempting to not get up again. Satan definitely would love for me to stay on the ground, wallowing in my insecurity. However, God does not teach through insecurity. This is not of Him. He teaches through mistakes, failed ventures, and broken relationships. He brings beauty from ashes as we learn wisdom, reliance, and forgiveness…not only for others, but also for ourselves. There is absolutely no peace without forgiveness.
I am also learning that I am capable of so much more than I thought. Through following God’s calling every step of the way, He leads me into new things that grow more and more impossible. Coming through on the other side, I learned that I could do so much more than I thought before. Had I not taken the step, I would never have known. I often look back to the scared teenage girl I used to be, convinced that I would never amount to anything. Then I see where I am today and remember all the amazing experiences I have had along the way. Who would have known? Who could have predicted that a depressed, insecure, and fearful girl would end up here today? I have only one answer through my mistakes and successes: only by the grace of God. I don’t think it’s prideful in the least bit to recognize all the good God has been able to do in my life and through me. I may be one fry short of a happy meal at times, but God can and has used this mess of a girl to bring Him glory. I pray that He does so even more through me in the future.
In John 8:1-11, John tells a story of a woman caught in the act of adultery. In this time, if anyone was found committing such a sin, the law gave orders that they must be stoned to death. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought this woman to Jesus to ask His opinion on what should be done. They wanted to catch Jesus saying something that in that time was illegal, in order to arrest Him. In this situation, they believed they had a clear-cut answer of what was right and what was wrong.
I often wonder what Jesus was drawing in the sand. Was it a list of the sins of all those present? Perhaps it was a simple giraffe. Whatever it was, the words that came out of His mouth have been ringing in the back of my mind lately: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one, each person laid down his stone and walked away until there was no one left standing with the woman but Jesus.
That woman was guilty, no doubt about it. If we were totally honest right now, we would each admit that we all have found ourselves in her shoes at one point or another. We have been guilty before a crowd of people who long to throw their stones of judgment at us, and they would be “justified” in doing so. However, Jesus draws a picture of grace in the sand before us, calling all who might judge us to consider first their own guilt and shame. We are all the same. We are all guilty. Only Jesus who lived life without sin has the right to pass judgment on us. How humbling it is that when we find ourselves alone with Him after all our accusers have walked away, we do not stand condemned. Rather, He offers us forgiveness. He calls us to change. That is true grace.
Just as we have been forgiven, we must learn to forgive others. We must be slow to anger, frustration, and offense. In contrast, we should be quick to give grace, understanding that there are circumstances beyond what we can understand. We have no right to cast our stones on those around us who are just as guilty as we are. Only God knows the plans He has for each and every one of us. He delights in taking the people least qualified and calling them to do great things. Who knows, but the person I least expected to change the world could be the one God calls to do it. Who am I to stand in the way? How could I ever know?
I am learning to lay down my stone that I so carelessly fling in all directions at times. I am discovering that I know and understand so little, and it is a process figuring out how to deal with that. I want to be a grace-giver rather than a judgment-assigner. Could I walk away and let Jesus make the final call? Lord, soften my heart to Your purposes. Let forgiveness be my primary response to any offense, justifiable or not. Take my stone away from me as I learn to be more like You.