Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On being judgmental, from all directions

I have the opposite of writer's block: there are so many things I want to write about that I can't nail one down enough to focus on it. Obviously, the best course of action here is to ignore all of those ideas that have been demanding front row cerebral space for the past three months and go with something brand new. So that's where we are.

Many of you know I have a sister. MommyJ is my dearest friend. In a perfect world, we would live next door to one another, our homes only separated by a gigantic shared walk-in closet. (Except for the blue jeans. Those, we don't share.) We were not close growing up -- I'm 4+ years older, and we were both bratty in very different ways. Our interests were vastly different, as were our approaches to life in general. I think, then, we looked at each other through carnival mirrors, each convinced the other was the one with the skewed perspective of reality. And the cuter figure. (We may have both been right, on both points.) We grew into a friendship that has ended up being the key to my sanity on my worst days, and a great source of joy and delight on all the other ones.

Over the past couple of days, MommyJ has engaged in an exchange of sorts with an acquaintance and MommyJ has been unfairly judged. This woman has made assumptions about MommyJ's life that imply the only reason it's so good is because she hasn't come up against any real trials -- yet. And she seems to watch MommyJ's little family just waiting for life to smack my baby sister in the face. What would you wish for, my friend? Do you actually hope for sickness, disease, disability? Are you waiting for her kids to hit puberty and fall off the deep end? How about job loss, or the death of a loved one? Legal troubles? A secret drug habit, or infidelity?

I do not understand why we all feel so strongly the need to measure our trials against another's. How can we assume that we all must endure exactly the same experiences in order to learn the same lessons? Surely the Lord does not mean for us to live our lives waiting for the other shoe to drop. There is no joy in that!

Here's the thing: we try so hard not to judge people who are going through difficult experiences. Sometimes, those challenging circumstances are the direct result of poor choices made by those involved. But sometimes, bad things just happen. This doctrine of not judging is preached a lot these days. But if it is true, the opposite must also be true: sometimes really great circumstances are the direct result of good choices made by those involved. And sometimes, good things just happen. But the good circumstances are not finite, handed out to others with none left for some at the end of the day. 

Sometimes, we endure trials very publicly. I think of so many of you out there who have children born with serious disabilities. Those trials are hard, in part, because they are out there for the world to see, and how you deal with them becomes a very public thing. Other times, we overcome private, painful trials one on one with the Lord, and these may be the hardest lessons of all.

When MommyJ became pregnant with Jordan, her first, CPod and I were three years into a seven year dose of infertility. I was happy, because she was happy, but her happiness was a little clouded. Every time someone who knew both of us found out she was expecting, they qualified their happiness for her by saying, "This must just be so hard for your sister." Even our mom was a little afraid of how I might react. But MommyJ didn't take a baby away from me. She gave me a nephew! To this day, I thank the Lord that I was able to share in MommyJ's joy and separate it from my own personal heartache. I would have been without a valuable source of support and love through some of my darkest days had I counted her blessings as black marks against my own.

Here's my long-winded point: please don't compare your trials to those of anyone else. The comparison does nothing for you but drive a wedge between you and somebody who might actually be able to help you through it.Please don't try to qualify the spiritual merit of another's experience based on the outward appearance of their current circumstances. You have no way of knowing what private struggles they may face, or what demons may have already been overcome. Do not discredit another person's methods because your experience yielded a different result. Remember that when all is said and done, you will only be judged against your own potential, so to compare yourself to others in the here and now is fruitless and counterproductive -- and a really quick trip down the path of self-condemned inadequacy.

(And please don't hold this post against me. It's not exactly my most organized and thorough composition.)



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20 comments:

  1. Well said! Everyone has their trials. Some are just hidden more. You never know what someone may be going through. And maybe it is nothing for a bit. But eventually we all have something. Everyone's cabin's on fire.

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  2. Very well said and what a great reminder. I think the hardest trial that I have ever gone through is one that maybe 4 people total know about. Those private trials are definitely some of the most challenging. This post reminds me of one of the conference talks from this last conference where he talks about the different types of trials that we face. I so admire the way that you handled your trial of infertility while MommyJ was pregnant. I think that would be very hard. To find joy for someone else when you are suffering yourself is truly Christlike.

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  3. A really great post Inkmom, and a reminder I've needed lately. I'm struggling with this a little in my extended family and having a really hard time finding the balance between justice and mercy when people make stupid choices. This has helped me to clarify it a little bit, so thanks.

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  4. So True!! We all have trials, public and private ones, who are we to say mine is better/worse than yours, really? What difference does it make??

    Well said!!

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  5. I LOVE this. Honestly, I struggle with this a bit. I think that sometimes, in the blog world, when we see people dealing with things like plane crashes or losing a child, etc., it's hard not to think about how lame my trials are in comparison.

    But that doesn't mean that they aren't real for me.

    I sometimes am the "waiting for the other shoe" to drop kind of person. I had some very difficult family times when I was a teenager, and still have problems with extended family members.

    But, my marriage to Adam is truly great and blessed, and there are times when I keep waiting for something to happen because how can things go this well?

    But, we have had trials outside our relationship. Not huge ones, like experiencing cheating or near death, etc., but they are our own. And they shouldn't be belittled.

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  6. Yes! I agree with you completely. This seems to happen a lot in my husband's family. Half are on the side of thinking everyone has it too easy and therefore aren't worth much, while the other half has gone through some horrific trials, privately, that those others will never know about, simply because rather than being a good supportive friend, they brushed off the smaller trials and trivialized them to the point that no one trusts them any more. Thanks for putting it into words.

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  7. Amen, amen, amen! The longer I live, the more I find that you JUST DON'T KNOW what someone has or is going through. And even if you did, whatever it might be could be just has hard to them as whatever someone else is going through. You just can't judge.

    Viktor Frankl (who lived through a concentration camp!) said it best when he compared suffering to a gaseous substance: it totally fills up the space its in, no matter how big the space is. So you can't compare suffering. If you are suffering, you are filled with it.

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  8. I feel a little like Kristina does. Everything is good now and has been for a long time but we do try to make good choices and I think it's important to acknowledge the blessings we're granted as result. And I have been through boatloads of more garbage than most people have and survived so I have to remember that. If bad things come, Heavenly Father has blessed me with the knowledge that I can survive them.

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  9. A very very hearty amen from me!

    One of my closest fiends has had a life almost completely opposite to mine. Bad things just seem to happen to her, and she compounds this by making bad choices as well. She babysat my children in my home once and didn't speak to me for weeks afterwards. The disparity was just too much for her. I learned a lot of what you just wrote about through that experience.

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  10. This post wasn't disorganized at all, E. And you're right - on both sides of the equation.

    When I was expecting my 3rd child, I came down with a wicked case of bronchitis. I coughed for so long that I was in constant pain. And of course, I couldn't take anything for it because I was expecting.

    Meanwhile, my sister Amber was diagnosed with cancer. And I felt so guilty for feeling sorry for myself when all I had was bronchitis.

    So I was praying for forgiveness for being so selfish and petty, and the answer that came to me was, "It's all right. Just because she's sick doesn't mean you aren't. And I'm mindful of both of you."

    Ultimately, everything has the potential to work for our good. But invariably it's only when the situation is reduced to the simplest equation: The Lord and me.

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  11. and p.s. Thank you for NOT putting an "e" in "Judgmental". You and I will save that word from corruption!!

    Power to the (anal retentive) people!

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  12. I came back to read the responses. Like Denae, I often have felt that. So and so has it worse.

    But the bottom line is that someone will ALWAYS have it worse. I was reading a message board where someone posted about how their husband had recently passed away and what a hard time they were having.

    Someone else posted that they should feel lucky and grateful because their friend lost her husband AND her daughter in a car crash, and that's much worse.

    Why are we playing the one-upper game with grief and trials?

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  13. A favorite line from a not-so-favorite hymn comes to mind: "In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can't see."

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  14. :::APPLAUSE:::I tell my daughters all the time that the very young women they may feel in competition with at this age, will be the very same women who will share their joy when they get married, have babies or have trials---they'll be the ones who bring casseroles to and recieve casseroles from! Be careful how you judge your neighbor...they may be the only ones home when your house catches fire!

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  15. I love this.

    It reminds me of an experience I had in college. It was a class about acting for singers, and the professor was trying to get us to understand opposition as a performance rule. He had us all sit in a circle and tell everyone what the biggest trial we were going through right then was. I remember being absolutely flabbergasted about some of the things my fellow students were dealing with, and a little embarrassed at my own problems. After class, one girl (who I thought had a particularly difficult issue to deal with) told me how much she admired me for facing what I was facing and that she didn't think she could ever do that. Shocked me. And taught me this lesson...you just never know.

    I am pretty sure that Heavenly Father hand tailors many of our trials for us, as we are all so different and need to learn different lessons in different ways.

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  16. Amen girl! I love that you brought up "being judged against our own potential" This is no trial competition here folks!

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  17. Wow. I just loved how honest and wise this post is. And all the comments. I liked how Lara put it. We all go through things. It isn't a one up game.

    WE should be lifting each other up, offering love, and loving one another regardless of who we think has it easiest. Because those assumptions are normally way off.

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  18. What a Lovely and Gracious post.
    I found this to be so true .. when I read how some judged Stephanie Nielson here

    http://community.nytimes.com/comments/parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/15/a-mothers-frightening-face/?sort=oldest&offset=1

    I was speechless that people judged Stephanie for flying. That some people said she was smug
    I will never understand how people can be that cruel :(
    IVe read in other places where some have questioned the donations :( I want to hit them over the head with a good dose of reality. I bet Stephanie would far rather have a crap lounge, and whatever else these people whined that they spent the money on, than to have a nice couch and be so disfigured

    Sorry to go off topic, but when i read your post I Thought ah that is how I felt when I read what some idiots were writing about Stephanie!

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  19. Amen.

    (I want to add something really inspiring and beautiful here, but my brain isn't coming up with anything.)

    You said this so well. There are people who have problems that we can't see and will never know. Life isn't always what it seems on the outside.

    You're awesome!

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Sock it to me!