So often, we see the surface problems, and not the underlying cause. I had thought only of the woman’s unethical source of income, not of the circumstances that drove her to it. In the case of this woman, I wondered: How often have I judged someone for one failing, when my inaction to help was actually the greater failure?
2. We judge what we perceive to be an inconsistency.
This past summer, I turned down an opportunity to work an awesome part-time job, explaining that my health would not allow it. Yet I also went hiking up the tallest mountain in my state in an all-day hike, and took several smaller hikes throughout the summer. Without all the facts, the situation seems to indicate that I prefer pleasure over earning more income, and my health problems aren’t much of a big deal.
With all the facts, however, the story is very different. Yes, a day hike is physically difficult, but if I have a few days afterward to rest, I can recover fairly well. Oppositely, an ongoing commitment like a job exposes my body to multiple triggers, from which I never get the chance to fully recover before another dose of exposure. Thus, a short-term massive trigger is actually a better deal than a long-term series of smaller triggers.
It’s easy to judge what we perceive to be an inconsistency. If Jim drives a new car but can’t pay his rent, perhaps it’s due to his poor money management—or perhaps some wealthy relatives chipped in to buy him a reliable vehicle to get him to work. If Susan consistently shows up late to work, she may be lazy—or she may be a single mother trying to juggle transporting her kids to daycare while earning an income. Without all the facts, we might misjudge someone.
3. We judge by our own standards and preferences.
My sister and I used to have what I call “rip-roaring arguments” over an age-old problem: whose life was harder. Each of us wanted to claim the coveted position of martyr. This went on for quite some time until we both realized that, even if my sister and I were exposed to identical circumstances, we would deal with it completely differently. Things I would find difficult, she would find easy, and things that she would find stressful, I would be comfortable with. We learned that we couldn’t judge each other by our own standards.
This outlook proved useful when we viewed the lives of others. Nine hours of sleep may be a luxury for one person, but a necessity for another. A busy lifestyle might be invigorating to one person, and exhausting to another. Valentine’s Day might be a complete non-issue for one single woman, but a reminder of loneliness for another. Everyone deals with the exact same circumstances completely differently.
A final thought...
Some people are great at explaining their circumstances, so you can construct an informed viewpoint. Others are more reserved, knowing that if they tried to explain the entirety of their complex, personal circumstances, they would basically have to tell their life story. And who would listen? So you are left with an incomplete picture, upon which to base your opinion of that person.
Are there circumstances in which we must exercise discernment? Absolutely. But, as Christians, it behooves us to be careful judges and to seek out the truth before we render a verdict.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.