Saturday, June 9, 2012

Am I Too Judgmental?

Indeed You love truth in the heart; then in the secret of my heart teach me wisdom.
            - Psalm 51
Never let evil talk pass by your lips; say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them.
            - Eph 4:29
Perhaps those words from my Friday Morning Prayers were still in my heart as I arrived late to the Protestant men’s Bible study group.  As usual, I just quietly sat near them, reading, with my ears open to their discussions --- and for any thoughts God might wish to share with me.  This morning the discussion was a lively one, as the group leader offered and asked for Scriptural help in a very personal matter.
Sam’s daughter was coming home for a visit.  His once (still now?) troubling daughter had grown up and moved away and --- as distance sometimes does --- over time she had renewed her relationship with her parents.  And now she was coming home for a visit --- with her boyfriend.  Well, you can guess the Bible study groups’ first question:  And just where is he going to sleep? 
It was Sam’s question, too.
The discussion rambled a bit, some about practical matters (“do you have a couch in the basement?”), and some about his wife’s thoughts, and the importance that Sam felt about keeping the frail relationship with his daughter going.  And then some voices got raised a bit, as the discussion moved to Scriptural quotes about “Thou shalt not judge.”  Now it seemed a positive point that the thoughts about saying nothing --- to keep the peace --- were quickly passed by, but worries were voiced about saying too much, and how to say it.  “You have to make sure she doesn’t think you are judging her,” one said.  And then another said:  “Even though you are.”
As they struggled to come up with the right words to say, I could detect a slight turning back toward the idea of saying nothing, because they couldn’t agree upon a good way to say “something.”  It was at this point that I looked up from my book and entered the conversation.
“My Church puts it in a way that helps, I think.  We say that we are to judge no one, but we can and should judge people’s actions --- not judging people, who are always good in God’s eyes, but their actions.”  A few of the guys saw a light go on, agreeing with and suggesting how that thought could be expressed to Sam’s daughter (and her boyfriend?).  To Sam’s credit, throughout this discussion he remained open to suggestions, although he appeared a bit nervous at times, hearing the suggestions on what he should say.  But I admired him for being open to new thoughts and to fact that perhaps he didn’t know everything --- would that some of our people in Washington were so open-minded.  But Sam is a man of faith (even if not my particular Church), and he recognizes the need to grow in holiness, and at its start that means knowledge.  He’d listen to others’ ideas.
As the discussion about “judging” his daughter continued, I offered that “what we are all talking about today is a capsule summary of our culture’s discussion:  ‘You can’t judge me,’ and ‘My truth is as good as your truth.’  This is called relativism, and it is rampant in our culture.  My truth is as good as yours, because there is no absolute truth.”  And then someone softly said: “Well, the absolute truth here is that Sam’s going to have to say something.”  And then someone, perhaps Sam, said: “And who is that going to hurt?”
The truth sometimes hurts.
And then I told a personal story to the guys, when I had stood up for the truth --- although I didn’t tell them fully what it cost.
One year I had gone on a great vacation into the Canadian Rockies.  I took so many pictures and spoke so often about it that a return trip was planned to the Northwest, with my wife and niece along.  Plans were made and everyone was looking forward to the trip, when my niece called me.  “Would it bother you, uncle Tom, if I brought my boyfriend along?”  It was an honest question from a niece I loved dearly --- and who obviously loved and respected me --- and so I gave her an honest answer, which she accepted.  Yes, it would bother me.  She understood and the trip would go on as originally planned --- until I told my wife of the phone conversation.  To say she went ballistic would be putting it mildly.  “Who are you to judge her?!?”  “You think you’re so perfect; well, you’re not.”  We had been separated for a few years by this point, so her last statement was certainly no surprise to me.  But her final one was:  “Well, I don’t care if your niece is still willing to go on the trip, I’m not.”  And so she didn’t, and we didn’t.
The truth hurt.  Although my niece and I are now perhaps even closer than ever, my wife and I divorced.
I didn’t tell the guys this part of the story, the rest of the story.  My divorce, after almost fifteen years of separation, of years of my thinking “maybe we’ll get back together --- somehow,” was always a bit confusing to me.  Oh, I know the many reasons for the divorce, but they always seemed so minor, like we could/should have worked them out.  It was only last month however, that I received some insights into what happened then, when I stumbled across an old diary I had started.  Looking at the dates, I had started writing the diary in the months just prior to my wife’s moving out.  As I read the words written so long ago in pencil, I was reminded of thoughts I had forgotten.  Perhaps I read now them because I needed to be reminded.
It wasn’t long after I had married that I began a spiritual renewal.  It started when I ran out of reading material one night and, bored, I picked up that coffee table decoration, the Bible.  I think that was the start.  Among the many words in “my diary” were thoughts about our minor quarrels, and words about my growing concern with faith matters.  I read how wanting to talk about books I read irritated my wife, how wanting to spend less money on “things” was not to her liking --- “you don’t love me like you used to,” and her angry words that we did “enough” donating to charity or doing charitable actions.  She didn’t understand why I wanted to do these things and I didn’t understand her lack of understanding.  Looking back now, I never did.
The Bible says we must choose God and God’s ways, even over family.  I don’t think I ever overtly made that choice, yet I could not stop my compulsion for learning and living the truth.  And the truth sometimes hurts.  It hurt me; it hurt making me into who I am today.
People say I was a good man back then, but I know I am a better one now.  If I were married now and going through the problems of sharing my life with another, would I be a better husband?  I don’t know; it’s not a focus of my life now, and I think, I’d view marriage as a distraction.  I think I understand Paul’s words about the single life being better; at least I understand, now, that it is for me.
The men’s Bible study wrapped up and I got the feeling that Sam was resolved to say “something.”  As he walked out the door I tapped him on the arm.  “One more thing,” I said.  “Don’t wimp out and say to your daughter, ‘You know your mom thinks ….’”.  Sam smiled.  “Yeh, I know.  Man up,” he said.
Sometimes the truth hurts.  I’ll be praying for Sam and his family.  I understand how hard married life can be.  I admire those who can really succeed at it; they are rare.  I admire those who do their best, even if it isn’t great.  And I don’t judge those who failed, like me, only their actions, and even those are sometimes hard to judge.  “By your actions are you seeking to please your family, or your God?  Who is more important?”  Situational ethics is a difficult topic.
“Man up,” people!  And do not be anxious.

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