Judgment has an energy that is not life-giving for anybody. When I live in judgment instead of the truth, something within me dies. Often that something is compassion for myself and ultimately compassion for others. Even in my suffering, I do not have to demonize or degrade those who do not live the way that I think matters. When I’m awake to doing my own growing, my transformational work, I hear Jesus say, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone.” I stand watching as he writes on the tablet of my heart and frees me to leave the mob scene, to go and sin no more. Had I not listened as Jesus spoke, I would not have gained my freedom, the freedom that comes when I let go of my propensity to judge the other. My freedom is twofold because I’m more aware now that the first person I routinely judged was myself. I realize that Jesus is freeing me from my own internal critic. I can choose to lay down my mistaken belief that I have some kind of right to judge. I set others free, and I learn to set myself free too.
Depression is anger turned inward, and judging is an unnecessary means of holding on to anger. Judgment and resentment are kindling for anger; they go hand in hand. Each of them is capable of destroying the good that God longs to bring to life in us. A judging and critical attitude blocks our flow of goodness. We often have set ideas about how we think good will comes into our lives. When I judge others, it is my ego saying, “Nope, that one can’t bless me,” and “Nope, not that one either.” I discount how God wants to use those people in my life for our mutual good. I have limited myself by assuming that I know it all and don’t need the support of others on my life journey.
As a kid, my ego helped me construct a meaning for my experiences with the people in my life. It drew from limited insight and worked to gather evidence to decide who was in, who was out, and what the rules were for living. Oh, she’s out for sure, my ego would say. Did you see the way she folded her arms? She folded them just like your old teacher, so she’s probably just like your old teacher. My ego would gather evidence and see patterns and then use them to allow me to condemn the other person. But God has invited me into a new way—a richer, fuller, less hollow way of being.
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In our Renovaré gatherings I routinely heard Dallas Willard say, “The chief aim of God in all of history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons with God as chief sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.” By judging folks all these years, my ego built a case for or against them based on sketchy data. If I pronounced them innocent, I permitted them access to the gate I kept watch over (because my righteousness was as the scribes and Pharisees), which would allow them entrance to that community. On the other hand, if I found them guilty, I condemned them to eternal doom because their way of being in the world didn’t line up with my unrealistic expectations. And heck, those expectations were unrealistic for me, so how could I think they were realistic for anyone else?
The only two fights I got into in elementary school (and got the stuffing beat out of me) were because I had judged two girls who wouldn’t tolerate my judgment. There were bullies in school. I wasn’t a bully, but there should be a category for Pharisees in training. That was me. Righteousness ought not to have a certain condemning tone or a look that reduces a person to nothingness. Yet I did that as a child and way too long as an adult.
The major depressive episode I had, also something I call “the crash,” invited me to let go of ways of being that don’t line up with the all-inclusive community God is seeking to build. It helped to shake me free from my masks, to acknowledge my anger, and let down the walls that were keeping God’s love from flowing freely through me. As long as I walked in judgment of others, I was holding myself in judgment and limiting God to a role as judge and condemner.
It’s taken a while, but I am seeing that the crash was not just about depression but about spiritual awakening, spiritual transformation. God was helping me see that living out of a place of judgment was rooted in judging myself, a byproduct of the past that was to be left in the past.
In this new life God offered, I am grounded in the vast inclusiveness of God’s love and mercy. This is now the source of my life rather than demeaning comparisons and brutal condemnation that we Pharisees are really good at in the name of Jesus. I was being invited to let go of all thoughts and ways of being that no longer served me. These thoughts and behaviors had made up the essence of who I had believed myself to be at my very core. God was allowing me to see, maybe for the first time in my life, because God really had my attention now. I could see clearly how a lifetime of my thoughts and beliefs had built the life that had crashed and shattered so devastatingly.
When I’m tempted to judge someone or a situation, I’m being invited to ask myself, Why do I think what I’m thinking? What am I feeling? How do I act when I think this way? What is the truth here? Jesus constantly invites us into a more expansive way of being. I now realize how my childhood program for happiness was one with limiting beliefs about my life and my world. God invited me into the deep ocean of joy, peace, contentment, compassion, and self-value. But I was bound by a childhood view that was more like a teaspoon of water in comparison, a teaspoon of water I was afraid to spill out of dread of the punishment that would no doubt come about.
My childhood happiness program was filled with all manner of judgments about others. I see now how those people were simply actors revealing aspects of me that I couldn’t see. Carl Jung calls this our shadow. It’s part of what the Palmores called the you that you don’t see but that others see with glaring accuracy. Scripture speaks about those of us who have perfect vision for seeing the specks in the eyes of others, which is amazing considering that we have a wooden two-by-four plank in our own eyes. The people I judged were simply bringing my shadow into living color. I’m seeing that what irritates me in others is often a message more about me than them. When I take the time to be with the irritation, I understand more about myself. When I see, then I can heal.
Adapted from Learning to Be by JuanitaCampbell Rasmus. Copyright (c) 2020 by Juanita Campbell Rasmus. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com.