I’m Judging You

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Here’s a common scenario: you’re driving along the highway, minding your own business. A car pulls right up on your bumper, honks, and swerves around you. The driver gives you the finger as he flies past you. Your first thought: “What’s his problem?” Your next thought: “What a jerk!”

Let’s all just admit that we make quick judgments based on very little information. The above situation is common to anyone who’s driven in the city, and it’s relatively harmless. But what we’re doing when we call that driver a jerk is a much larger problem, because we’re not just handing out snap judgments on the highway. We’re doing it every day across all spectrums of life.

It’s the human condition to take the quickest and least intrusive route toward understanding. Case in point: Google. If I needed to learn about something for a research project when I was a kid, my teacher sent me to the library to thumb through a card catalogue till I found the book I wanted. Then I read the book to learn the information I needed. Yes, I know. I’m old.

But now, all I have to do is type (or even just speak) a few words into my phone, and a litany of information pops onto my screen. Why in the world would I ever use a library again? The quickest way to get information is the best way.

Or is it?

If I asked you to tell me something that really frustrates you, you’d be able to give me not only the answer, but you could tell me why that thing frustrates you. You have good reasons for the things that bother you most, and those reasons are most likely personal.

Let me give you an example. A young woman gets up quickly and causes a disturbance during a movie. She blocks everyone’s view and makes a lot of noise trying to get out of the theater. You’re annoyed – she shouldn’t have bought a large coke if she couldn’t wait to go to the bathroom till this intense scene is over. What you don’t know is that she was sexually assaulted as a young child, and this movie scene has triggered intense fear. She can’t breathe. Her heart is pounding. She’s not thinking too much about whether she is disturbing others. She has to get out of there.

Or what about that online friend who posts articles several times a week about social injustice? Maybe you’ve labeled him as somebody who just likes to yell loudly. You start to dismiss his thoughts and roll your eyes at his opinions. You don’t understand that he has family members and friends who have suffered horrible injustice, and his way of helping is to speak for them.

You don’t know, because you don’t ask. We all do this. We make snap judgments about people without learning anything. We’d rather avoid the hard work and painful experience of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, of trying to understand what they think and feel.

If someone is expressing feelings of anger or fear, there’s a reason. Emotions are like signs on the road that point us to what’s in front of us. They help us understand ourselves, but they are also meant to help us understand each other. My friend who is incredibly angry about the results of the election last November is angry for a reason. My family member who rejects the kindness of others has reasons for why she’s withdrawing. Instead of deciding quickly what other people are like, what if I took the time to seek understanding? to ask real questions? to come near to them?

We are meant to share experiences. This is why biographies are written, why songs are sung, why the Holocaust Museum was built. I cannot share your experience unless I come close to you. I can’t even begin to understand till I hear the stories and look into your eyes as you tell them.

One of my favorite stories of a shared experience happens in the Bible, in John 20:24-28. Jesus has just been raised from the dead, and his friends are all talking about it. Thomas doesn’t believe it. He says he’ll have to touch Jesus’ wounds in order to believe that he has risen. The first time they’re together, Jesus asks him to come close. He doesn’t reprimand Thomas for not believing. Instead, he invites Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and his side. He provides Thomas with a shared experience.

I wonder if that experience was painful for Jesus. Did it hurt to have Thomas’ finger pushed into his wound?

Shared experience is risky, and it’s painful. But it’s the way we’re meant to live if we want to be unified. I need to look you in the eyes and ask you what you think about difficult topics, and then I need to be ready to actually listen (not just wait for my turn to talk). I need to be able to tell you about my wounds, about the things that I really care about. And the goal is not to fix each other. It’s not to change anybody’s mind. It’s not to make someone feel a little better or forget the pain.

The goal is unity.

When Someone You Love Walks Away

Broken Heart

If you’ve ever tried to love someone and they didn’t receive it, this post is for you.

I have experience with this. Sometimes it’s just one conversation with someone and I feel completely shut down. Sometimes I spend years trying to be a friend, and ultimately the person walks away and never returns. These are really hard situations, and I think it would be easy for me to just shrug and say, “Well, it must be for the best,” or “She’ll eventually turn around,” or “God is sovereign.” While these statements may be (or are) true, I think they can keep us from facing the pain of loss. They can also keep us from coming to terms with our faith.

When a person decides your friendship isn’t worth her time anymore, it hurts. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss an opportunity to ask a critical question: How does this circumstance potentially shake my faith and invite doubt to creep in?

There was a time in my life when I lost a friendship that was very dear to me. This woman not only walked away from our friendship, but she also walked away from the Church and the Lord. I wanted to shut down my pain and just “trust the Lord.” But deep down, a storm was brewing. I spent several months white-knuckling my faith, telling everyone that I trusted the Lord’s plan. Only problem was, I didn’t believe a word of it. Why did my friend reject me? Why did she reject the Lord? Why didn’t He do more to intervene? What would happen if she died in the near future – would she go to hell? What was I supposed to do to help her?

These questions flew around in my head like a tornado. I knew I should trust the Lord, but I didn’t. I thought I had to fix something. I thought I must have done something wrong, or else maybe she wouldn’t have walked away.

A moment came when I crashed. In that moment of brokenness, I heard the gentle words of the Lord, saying it was ok for me to be sad. He wanted me to bring my grief and frustration and doubt into His throneroom. He wanted me to stop trying to be strong. He didn’t ask me to suck it up or move on. He allowed me to feel what I was feeling, just like a good counselor would do. And then in that moment (and many more to follow), He turned my heart to remind me of truth. He settled the storm.

This took time. If you’re grieving the loss of a friend, I encourage you to take your thoughts, feelings, and doubts to the Lord. He wants to be your comfort. And don’t be afraid to share with godly friends your frustrations and questions. I promise even the most godly person you know has struggled with doubt and anger. Be willing to be honest and vulnerable.

And finally, pray for wisdom. Just because someone walks away from you doesn’t mean the Lord gives you freedom to walk away as well. He calls us to continually love, even when that love isn’t reciprocated. You may not know how to do that, but He does, and He’ll show you.

Churches Need Women Leaders

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called…” Ephesians 4:1

What is the calling to which we have been called? What has God specifically commissioned us to do? First He calls us to be His disciples, to deny ourselves and follow Him (Matthew 16:24), and to love Him with all that we are. Second, He calls us to love and disciple others (Matthew 28:19). I wonder if we’re making it more complicated than it has to be.

I work with leaders. These are women who have already taken up the mantle of responsibility to love and shepherd others. They are strong. They are upright in character. They are committed. But the thing I keep seeing is how timid they are.

I understand. In a church culture in which we are led well by male elders and pastors, we can easily begin to feel as if our leadership is unnecessary. We also don’t want to overstep our roles as women who desire to submit and humbly follow those in authority. But here’s what I’ve learned, both from listening to our male elders and to women in our congregation: we are necessary.

If you have any semblance of biblical knowledge, if your heart longs for the things of God, if you are fighting against sin with the power of the Holy Spirit – I promise there is a sister who needs your leadership. In fact, churches have scores of women who feel stagnant in their faith, who don’t know the Bible, and who simply don’t have the desire to follow Jesus in this season of their lives. They need someone to come alongside them and disciple them.

The problem is we tend to think there needs to be an organized program that allows us to sign our names on a list. We think someone else who’s smarter than we are has to be the one in charge, and we can just show up and follow orders. The truth is that we are not fulfilling our calling when we leave the leadership to someone else.

If your calling is to follow Christ and lead others to do the same, how are you carrying it out? In what ways are you pleading with the Lord for vision? Are you asking Him to show you how to love others with Christ-like gentleness and patience?

You may not be a master organizer or a phenomenal teacher, but you are called. Do you remember that movie “The Princess Diaries?” This normal teenager finds out she’s a princess, and then she has to learn how to fulfill that role. In the same way, we have already been called disciplers. Now we just need to learn how. And it won’t be without its bumps and bruises, but discipleship is a treasure you can’t just sit on. In fact, Jesus told a story about the wickedness of sitting on our “talents” (gifts, time, calling) instead of investing.

You matter. A lot. The lessons you’ve learned from the Lord are meant to be shared with others. You have no idea how the Lord will use you until you step out of your fear and into His calling.

I’d love to hear from you about this topic. Please leave a comment so we can continue the conversation!

Confessions of a “Fixer”

Today’s thoughts will be relevant to anyone who helps others – so I guess that means everyone. Whether you’re a mom, a teacher, a minister, or just a citizen, your hands and words and time are hopefully helping someone. I want to share something profound that I’ve been learning over the past few years of full-time ministry.

You are not responsible for people.

For those of us who are “fixers,” this is a hard statement to swallow. In fact, you may automatically want to reject it altogether. But hear me out. The Bible teaches that we are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), help the weak (1 Thessalonians 5:14), love one another (1 Corinthians 13), and consider others above ourselves (Philippians 2:3). But the Bible does not teach that we are responsible for change in other people’s lives. In fact, quite the contrary – the Bible teaches that only God can create change (John 16:8, 1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

I have struggled with this because the Lord has planted compassion and a strong sense of justice in my heart. When those two things combine, I feel an overwhelming urge to pick someone up and move them (spiritually speaking, of course). Get them from point A to point B. And I want to do whatever possible to make that happen. I have resorted to all sorts of tactics that really don’t exemplify the gospel at all in order to change a person.

But if 2 Corinthians 5:14 is true and the love of Christ is what controls and compels us, maybe it’s not the most loving thing to pick people up and move them from point A to point B. Maybe it’s not about whether I’m successful in my endeavors to help people change. Because maybe my desire to see someone change is really about me. Maybe I want to feel good about my ministry. Or maybe I’m afraid to feel like a failure in people’s lives. So I’m desperate to see them change.

Here’s a good indication of whether my desire for people’s change is motivated by the love of Christ or the love of my reputation: how much am I praying?

We must remember that, because only God creates change, He’s the one we must trust with the change. The only thing I’m responsible for in a person’s life is the Word of God. Am I speaking it in love? Am I following His commands to love others unselfishly, seeking their good for the sake of His glory? Do I feel responsible for their change? And if I do, why?

I’m praying that the “fixer” will die with the rest of my flesh. She’s no good to the Kingdom anyway.

Asking Tough Questions

Very few people want to be left alone when they’re suffering. They may seem stand-offish, but isolation is often the result of shame or fear. If someone you love is screening your calls (and you’re sure it’s not because you’ve been a jerk), there’s a good chance he or she needs some extra TLC. Here are a couple of examples:

A mother of two has just had her third child. She hasn’t been around much, but you figure it’s just because she’s busy with the new baby. When you talk with her, she seems very tired and talks about wanting to stay in bed all day. She has stopped attending events she would normally care about. You don’t want to pry, but you feel a little worried.

Some friends of yours got married six months ago. Whenever you see them, they always seem fine. But they frequently cancel when you try to get together with them. Then you get a message one day telling you that she’s going on an extended trip to her parents’ house to visit. Maybe it’s normal – or maybe they’re having problems in their marriage.

When people ask me what they should do when their “gut” tells them something is wrong, I always tell them to pray for wisdom and then reach out. It can’t do any harm to ask someone if they’re having problems. It doesn’t communicate that you’re nosy or pushy – in fact, just the opposite. When a friend is in trouble and she hears from you, you’ll probably be the most likely person she’ll trust with her pain.

I’ll admit – a lot of what I believe about people comes from my experience with people. And I’ve only had one experience in which I reached out to someone I thought was having trouble and she was angry. And, come to think of it, even that person was actually really hurting but just wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. Eventually even she came around because she knew I cared.

We should never be afraid to ask probing questions of people we love. Christ is our example in this – He asked lots of hard questions, and His purpose was always the changing of someone’s heart. May grace blend perfectly with truth as we walk alongside others who are fighting tough battles.