“Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. Then when you do criticize them, you’ll be a mile away. And you’ll have their shoes.” (This quote is attributed to several sources, including Jack Handy and Justin Bieber)
In my own life, a critical spirit surfaces on a regular basis.
– When I see a panhandler “begging” for money at an intersection, I wonder, “Are you really unemployable? Or are you actually making more money here on this corner than you would at a real job?”
– When somebody goes to prison I think, “You got what you deserved.”
– When some distracted jerk is too busy talking on his/her cell phone to realize they sat through an entire green light, I state out loud, “Really? Hang up and drive!” (This is one of my critical-spirit hot buttons.)
Honestly, I quite often come to conclusions about the actions or motives of others with absolutely no understanding of their situation. But I don’t want to live this way. I need a pathway, a bridge to help me get from critical to compassionate. Maybe you need one too. God may have a different bridge in mind for you, but I’ll share two “planks” that have helped me walk toward a more compassionate heart for others.
1. Contrition – In Isaiah 66, the Lord says, “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.” Contrition is that degree to which I feel remorse over my own faults and failures. Have I ever taken advantage of the system (think of the panhandler)? Have I committed “crimes” – whether legal or moral in nature – and only avoided public embarrassment because I didn’t get caught? Have I been the distracted driver who deserved someone else’s anger? Have my actions been misinterpreted by others who didn’t understand my circumstances? Yes, yes, yes, and plenty of other yeses.
I visited a state penitentiary here in Colorado and had the blessing of sharing the afternoon with a few inmates. I walked away realizing that the graciousness and compassion I saw in them was in direction relationship to the fact that they lived with daily reminders of their own need for grace. Their consequences were obvious, mine aren’t. Their need for forgiveness echoed with each closing of the iron bars on their cells. My need for forgiveness gets drowned out by the volume of my critique of others. Their crimes might be different from mine, but my transgressions are not insignificant. Morally speaking I am no better than them, and they are no worse than me. I would do well to apply that thinking to all of those idiots who live in my world.
2. Curiosity – How convenient it is to simply ascribe motive or interpretations to the inappropriate actions of others. The harder work comes in seeking understanding. But I am consistently amazed at what I learn when I become curious about someone else’s situation. I am humbled when I learn why a person is begging for money on the street. I am quieted when I hear about the road of hurt or abuse t
The next time you sense a critical spirit rising in you toward someone, ask yourself two simple questions:hat has led someone to act in selfish ways. I am moved when I ask about the story that led someone to get a particular tattoo.
Take a look at the tattoo on this page. What does it stir in you? I am tempted to think, “Is this a Rob Bell groupie? Was Love entered into a contest that I didn’t know about? In 20 years will this tattoo look like the aftermath of a train wreck?” Critical, and ignorant. This tattoo belongs to a dear friend of mine. If you have a few minutes, you can read the story behind why she got this body art. I was amazed, humbled, moved to tears by her act of love and honor.
The next time you sense a critical spirit rising in you toward someone, ask yourself two simple questions:
Have I acted in a way that is equally worthy of him/her being critical of me?
What circumstances could be influencing his/her behavior in a way that would stir compassion in me?