This verse has always made me cringe. Because I judge so easily. Do you?
I “work out” who someone is within twenty seconds:
“No no, all teeth and tan.”
“Blimey, I wouldn’t like to be on the wrong side of that.”
“Homeless. What happened to them?”
It helps me to remember the immediate response to people I have in my own heart, when I feel hurt by the judgment of others.
Which I do.
One of the hardest things I find about divorce is feeling so constantly judged. Now I realise much of this is probably my own projection. We worry about what others think of us when really they’re simply not thinking about us at all, they’re thinking about what people are thinking about them.
But forget other people. As a divorced woman, as a Christian divorced woman, I judge myself. I am constantly levelling judgment against myself.
It gets to that moment in the conversation when I have to say, “Actually I’m a single mum. Yup. My divorce was final this summer,” that judgment rears its head. I gulp. My stomach lurches forward a little. My face takes on the pinched look of a hamster in pain plastered under a bright smile that’s meant to cover my shame and communicate, “I’m fine! I’m fine! I’m fine! Yes, I’m all squared away on this. Yes, me and the Lord, we’re squared away on this. Yup. Yup. Here I am.”
And then depending on how guilty/ashamed I feel on any particular day, I might stop there or sputter on about how I never expected to be divorced blah-blah-blahtyty-blah. As if that means that somehow I’m not?
I feel the need to justify myself even when there’s nothing I can say.
Because the thing is, even though it’s true that I am squared away with the Lord about it, I always wish I wasn’t divorced. I wish I wasn’t a single mum. I wish we could be a regular family unit.
But we couldn’t. It was not possible. So here I am. I couldn’t have changed the course of action I ultimately had to take, I just wish my life hadn’t been that. I wish I hadn’t had to take that course. I wish my children lived with two parents. I wish we’d been functional. I wish we’d managed to make it work. I wish we’d got it sorted out.
But it wasn’t possible. My head knows that but my heart still grieves it. It probably always will. And so my condemnation against myself – legitimate or otherwise – remains.
And then there are the moments when even the people who know my story, the people who know all its ins and outs and know me, display – unwittingly – their own judgment on my situation. My single mother state. My divorced-Christian-woman state.
And it’s devastating. It’s doubly devastating because even though they love me they – just like me – cannot ultimately conceal their own prejudice about where I am. Judgement rises like a subtle mist out of an apparently innocent exchange. Here’s a recent example.
In order to better understand my current circumstances and my depression, I asked someone very close to me to think through the following scenario:
“I’m 51. Where were you when you were my age? What stage in your life had you reached by then? Think about it for a moment. Have you got it in your head? Can you see yourself back then? OK.
Now think about how you felt about who you were at this life-stage. What had you achieved work-wise? How long had you been married? How many homes had you created? How many times had you moved? How many children did you have? How did you feel about yourself as a functioning adult?
Now, imagine this for a minute. Imagine that everything you’d built up in your adult life gets ripped away from you. Can you imagine that? I really want you to try for a minute. Your home’s gone, your marriage is gone, your career’s gone. You are now – despite all intention and expectation – the sole provider for your children. Who are traumatized and needing enormous amounts of emotional support. Financially, the only responsible decision is to move back in with your parents.
You can’t believe it. Are you kidding? Move back in with mum and dad? Really? Now? At your age?
Yes. I want you to imagine what that would be like.
This is your situation and you now have to think extremely carefully about whatever capital you have left. You must save, which makes the only responsible option to come back under your father’s roof. At this stage in your life, now.
Can you imagine that?
This means you will also have to come back under your mother’s way of doing things – not your own which you’ve developed over decades as an adult – but hers. You love your mother, but you learned to do things your own way long ago.
You’ve had to leave all your possessions behind and so your parents – with massive generosity – have offered you rooms in their house until you can get back on your feet. How does this make you feel?
You must – respectfully – find a way to make space in their house for you and your children. It is not actually your space, it is their home and their things. So you must try and create boundaries tenderly, firmly, gratefully. You buy a few essentials, but really you are cobbling together an existence with nothing that actually belongs to either you or your children. Yet you must try to make it your own recognisable home. Your own refuge.
And now as well as your home not being your own, your time is not your own. Your choices cannot be yours alone. Everything must be gauged, weighed, measured, received. For you are no longer an independent agent in any manner or by any means. You, of necessity, are entirely reliant on the kindness of others.
Can you imagine all that? Can you imagine what that must be like?
That’s my life right now. Can you imagine it?”
There was a long pause, and then here it came. The unbearably, unwittingly revealing response:
“No, to be honest, I can’t. Because it’s just so totally improbable.”
My breath caught. There it was. Judgment lurking unspoken underneath even given all the facts. Judgment that cannot help but eventually make itself known. Because you know what they’re really saying? “You see I can’t imagine it, Josie. Because I would never have let it happen to me.”
They echo the thoughts I have toward myself. And it guts me.
So next time I (for example) judge a homeless woman for being homeless? I’m going to stop myself in my tracks and say this:
“You know what, Josie? She could have made all the right decisions and still ended up homeless. You know why? Because she’s a human being and life happens.”
And maybe, just maybe, that will lessen the sting when I feel so judged myself.