Saturday, December 30, 2017

Judgment in church.

Ah, judgment....

One word that can trigger so many unpleasant emotions and stir up so many unhappy memories. We've all had our own personal experience with it haven't we?

Everyone knows the old adage from Matthew 7, “Do not judge, lest you be judged”, but how many of us have ever noticed that the rest of the chapter is full of Jesus’ admonitions to use good judgment in dealing with people? The same chapter that tells us not to judge also tells us not to throw pearls before swine, for instance, and Jesus was not talking about tossing necklaces to pigs. Who is to determine what sort of person could be classified as “swine”? Of course Jesus is simply talking about using discernment. Judgment, used discerningly, can be a healthy thing... as in knowing when to speak, avoiding dangerous people, or choosing the best political candidate.

But we all easily recognize the kind of judgment that Jesus warns us against, because when it is directed our way, it really hurts!  We all want to be thought well of, to be liked, accepted, and loved. As Christians, we hope that the body of Christ will be that welcoming community that loves us for who we are, warts and all. Sadly, it is in the church that so many of us have been most hurt by the judgment of others.

Whether it was pertaining to our outward appearance:
“How do you reconcile the verse in Deuteronomy about tattoos being part of DEVIL WORSHIP with, ahem, that TATTOO on your arm?”

...or our level of personal commitment:
“How many hours do YOU pray every morning? And do you fast weekly too?”

… or our family choices:
“You have HOW many children? Haven’t you figured out what causes that yet?” 
…and sometimes the opposite family choices:
 “WE TRUST GOD with our family size, so WE don’t use birth control…”

…or our parenting:
“Because you let your children watch Star Wars, I’m afraid we don't feel comfortable letting OUR children spend time with YOUR children.”

...or that we aren't parents yet:
"You can't understand until you are a parent yourself."

....It all hurts just the same.

Sometimes it is words, but a lot of the time, it is the unspoken judgment that feels the worst. You can't quite put your finger on it, or prove it, but it’s there all the same. You go home and think, “No one likes me there”, or “I don’t fit in.” Perhaps someone gave you the once over regarding that short strappy dress you were wearing, or someone eyed how much sugar you were emptying into your coffee. Maybe your kids were loud in the service and someone stared at you. Whatever it was, it didn't feel good and made you not want to come back again. Hopefully you did, but if you are one of the countless who left a church because you felt judged, trust me, I get it.

I have never had that luxury, (to leave a church I’ve felt judged in), as being a pastor’s wife has tied me to a church in an unusual way. I don't have a position, per say, but yet I can't be quite just like any other sister in the body: everyone looks to me expecting something. What, I’ve never been quite sure, because it’s different for everyone, but I do a really good job at falling short of whatever it was they hoped for. I can't count how many pedestals I’ve probably fallen off of over the years! And most without even knowing I was even on one until it was all too clear that I was no longer.  You name it, I wasn’t IT.
I wasn’t old enough, educated enough, organized enough, available enough, outspoken enough, quiet enough, managing enough, reaching out enough, listening enough, teaching enough, serving enough, and the list goes on. Some of the time, the problem is even as shallow as not looking enough like what someone believes a pastors wife is supposed to look like. My clothes or hair or figure have even be a disappointment to people!

And my parenting! Well, if I wasn't already bad enough by myself, just look at my children! Wild, disorderly, bad mannered, and filthy. And my home! The laundry pile is unearthly! I must either be mentally challenged or frightfully lazy.

Yes, I have been judged. More than some. I expected that, to some degree, as it's wise to consider a pastor's qualifications as evidenced by his family life, (as in, is he the real deal, or does he live one way at home and another in the pulpit?) and to do that, you must look at his wife and kids. I get that. It’s even in the Bible. Yet, even knowing that people would look and judge did not prepare me for what it would feel like when that judgment was negative, as it would inevitably be sometimes.
To put yourself out there as a servant of Christ is sometimes to place a target on your back, and it really hurts when it is a fellow Christian who takes aim at you. I am not perfect by any means, and neither are my kids, or my husband! We are all just sinners saved by grace seeking to put the kingdom of God first in our lives.  In seeking Him, He gave my husband a calling to pastor and me to be his helpmeet, but we are still just Christians. We just want to be loved and accepted for who we are, not judged for who we are not.

(Now, I need to insert here a quick amendment to my original post last night: I am not writing from current experiences, but from past ones. I'm not feeling particularly judged at the moment, so this is not written from the hip in a moment of pain. Thank you to those of you who asked :) Also, I need to clarify that I rarely have this experience in my current church. You guys are some of the most loving and non-judgmental people I know! Thank you for accepting me for who I am. But this is a real issue that many have experienced, myself included, and even in the best of churches it still sometimes occurs. We ARE human, after all.  Okay, back to the post...)

Regardless of your personal gifting, calling, or position in a church, you are just the same as me: you want to be liked, loved, and accepted for who God made you to be, exactly as you are today, both the good things and the bad.
And you know what? I accept you. I like you. I love you. How can I know that without even knowing who you are? Because I have never disliked anyone God brought in my path. Everyone has their oddities, and that’s what I love about them! I love what makes you different, what makes you weird, what makes you you.
Sure, something you might do might annoy me. But it’s equally likely I will bug you in some way too. We are people, and that’s what we are best at doing, it would seem, at least, if my kids are any sort of an measure of humanity. We get on each others nerves -all the time- by our selfishness, bad habits, and thoughtlessness. But, like in our human family, we have something that is deeper than all those surface frictions- the love and unity of the Holy Spirit in the family of Christ. We can apologize. We can forgive. We can love.

It is only pride that prevents this awesome kind of acceptance and appreciation for each other in the church. When we think we are better, (in holiness, doctrine, lifestyle, spirituality, parenting, ministry, or whatever), we judge... not with discernment, but with pride. And that is the kind that hurts. When we see ourselves as God does: very loved sinners, we have nothing to be proud of. Our righteousness is totally a gift and God’s love is not earned.  No one is worse than us, nor better. We are all just brothers and sisters at the foot of the cross, and yes! that is a sweet place to be.
I love the family of Christ. I love you! You are my sister, and I like you the way God made you.  Can we look at each other only with eyes of love? I have my faults and you have yours, but what is that to sisters? Our sins were all paid for and covered by Jesus’ blood. There is nothing left to do but to enjoy each others company and rejoice in Christ Jesus who did it all!

Are you with me on this? What would church be like if we all came with only love in our hearts for each other? Heaven? Pretty close. Pretty close.

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