A couple of years ago I went to a Christian camp with the youth group I was working with at the time. The camp was incredible and the kids had some really amazing experiences. I watched these kids be challeneged in their faith, ask some really great questions, and even wash one anothers feet (one of the kids even washed mine. Poor thing.) Overall the camp experience was incredibly impactful for many of the kids that went with us, but at this camp God didn’t only do things in the lives of these kids, He did something in my life as well.
At camp there was this one kid, let’s call him John. (Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.) See the thing about John was, well, he was completely annoying. This kid wasn’t the “bouncing off the walls” crazy sort of annoying. No, this kid was the “everyone look at me becuase I need to be the center of attention” kind of annying. He was the “I’m in the oldest grade at this camp and I absolutely love all the younger girls following me around and admiring my trendy hairstyle” sort of annoying. (A picture resembling John’s trendy hair has been provided here for your refferal.)
I think you get the idea.
John just rubbed me the wrong way. I felt he was a smug, arrogant, and pompus 18 year old, and I thought that after about four days of being around John I knew him well enough to make that judgement (his church was on the same team that our church was placed on so encounters were frustratingly frequent). And yet, as I was picking up the proverbial stone in my mind to cast at him for about the twentieth time that week, God grabbed my arm.
For the first time something else slipped into my mind as I passed by John. “You don’t know him, Curtis.” I was pretty quick to compile in my mind a list of John’s obnoxious and infuriating behaviors to refute that claim. Almost saying to myself, “Oh, I know John. I know him really well. In fact, I know him too well. I’ve seen more than enough to know I’m not wrong about him.” But what entered into my mind next would completely extinguish any belief that I was right in my disposition toward the trendy-haired John.
“No Curtis you don’t know him like I know him. Back home John has an absent or maybe even abusive father. John doesn’t get any love and affection at home and so now he is looking for attention and love in all the wrong places. Yes, I know he isn’t doing great, but I’m working on him and I would really appreciate if you didn’t get in my way but rather helped me by showing him love.”
Now I suppose I can’t say for certain that God placed the thought in my head, but regardless of where it originated from I can say it stopped my in my tracks and changed the way I interacted with John. This experience has followed me since that day and affects my interaction with every person I’m tempted to cast judgment upon. It replays in my mind when I’m interacting with any person who I’m tempted to lash out on, whether that out loud or in my head. In fact, it has helped me so much that I want to break it down into three steps so you can find a similar thought pattern in times when you are tempted to start chucking some stones.
1) Attempt to see them through the eyes of God
Where you might use words like “annoying,” “gossiper,” and “self-centered” to describe this person, take a moment to ask what God would say when looking at that person. If you get the same sort of words you did before asking yourself that question I’d reccomend reading through the gospels and seeing how Jesus dealt with those who would have been on the recieving end of judgment (e.g. prostitutes, tax collectors, etc.)
I personally I begin to think of words such as “loved,” “precious,” and “valued.” It helps to attempt to see this person from the perspective of God because once I become convinced that God loves them I don’t feel in a position to disagree. I mean God loved me and dealt with me mercifully at my darkest, as well as amidst my failures even now, and so why should I thank God for mercy shown to me and then turn around and pass judgment?
“Beacuse I’m stupid,” has been the only answer I’ve really come up with so far. I’m open to other suggestions.
2) Concieve a possible back story.
This part is really important for me. It’s so easy to see the surface behavior and draw conclusions about the person. However, it’s important to remember that things aren’t always so black and white. There are shades of grey. People make decisions and are responsible, yet decisions can often be influenced by outside circumstances (home life, traumatic experiences, etc). Just as I suddenly realized John’s behavior might be due to a way in which he was a vicitim of others, it is very realistic to find reasons why someone else might be behaving how they are.
To be clear, I’m not saying there is no one who is guilty or that people should be excused from their actions. What I am saying is it is not my job to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. I don’t have all the information needed. I can’t see and work through the shades of grey. Romans 13 reminds us that it is God’s job to handle scale balancing and it is our job to extend mercy and love to even our enemies. He gets the final call on good and evil. Not me (even though I often feel I have a knack for such a thing).
3) Do something.
We’ve arrived at the most dificult part, but hopefully step one and two will have made this easier. The final step is to do something to tangibly love this person. I’m not saying you need to liquidate your assests and give them all you’ve got. I just mean do something positive and loving toward them. For me it was initiating conversation with John and trying to learn a little more about him. It might just be giving them a compliment or asking how they’re doing. Anything that would move you forward into actually loving them.
The hardest part about moving the large stone of loving those who make it hard is to get it moving. Once you take action it’s a lot easier to keep the stone moving and use the momentum to continue. But it has to start somewhere.
Photo via Visualhunt.com