Judgment or Discernment?

Journal 2005

I’ve been working through how to recognize the difference between God’s standard and men’s standard of conduct. For example, I came out of a system that taught it was a sin for a woman to wear pants, and though I threw that false belief out years ago, I wonder about wearing skimpy clothing. A judgmental attitude (which I’m prone to have) is a self-righteous attitude about how others conduct themselves—usually because I don’t do it myself. And often the item or “sin” in question reflects a tradition of man rather than breaking a direct command of Scripture. Discernment, on the other hand, involves understanding the intent of a command in Scripture and applying it to myself.

One’s choice of dress falls on a continuum: from a Middle Eastern burka all the way to public nudity. What’s modest for one culture may be immoral for another.* I’m sure my upbringing in an African village impacts my confusion. Does God’s Word dictate standards of dress, or does God look only on the heart? (I can dress like a Puritan and not have a pure heart.) The other end of the continuum is harder for me to gauge. At what point does my dress choice cross into sin? Can the discussion focus on the amount of material, or should the focus be 100% on the heart?

Or what about my media viewing choices? Is there a point at which what I watch becomes sin? Or is it all about the condition of the heart? I cannot judge another’s motives, but personally, I’d prefer wholesome rather than on-the-edge. Better to hug the mountain side than the cliff side in these gray areas.

*Funny story from Stormy Omartian’s book The Power of the Praying Woman. Seems an offended missionary decided he should supply the topless natives with t-shirts. The next day the ladies showed up at church proudly wearing their new garb—with holes cut out for their breasts (so they could nurse of course). Made perfect sense to me!

2023 Update. I must have worked through these questions sufficiently as I have no emotion today when the subject comes up. I know now that I am not responsible for anyone’s heart but my own, and I can trust God to convict me when needed and guide me into all truth.

Profanity

Journal 2005

Recently a friend on Facebook used a four-letter word in her post, and I’m disappointed in the direction this young person has taken in life. I know she knows God, but her activities don’t match my understanding of biblical mandates. It grieves my heart for the woman she’s become when I knew her once as an innocent child. What seed of disappointment, pride, rebellion, hurt, or emptiness got planted in her heart and when? I’m not responsible for her choices, but her choice today impacted my eyes, and the impurity infiltrated my mind.

I was raised with strict rules about dancing, smoking, movie-going, and card-playing. Never once did my parents curse, drink alcohol, or travel on Sunday. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve had to decide which rules I want to shed and which I want to keep. I can happily play games with cards, go to movies, or golf with my husband on a Sunday afternoon, but I still seem to be quite sensitive to profanity.

And so I struggle to get that four-letter word out of my head. It’s like trying not to see a pink elephant by saying, “Don’t think of pink elephants”! I need a God-miracle to break the bond with it. I’ve tried every trick, tip, and tool I know, and nothing works. I’ve tried bond-breaking in memories and images, prayers against curses, repentance, forgiveness, praise, and prayer for purity for self and for others.

Forgiveness—this word jumps out at me. Why am I reluctant to pursue this? Why do I need to forgive her? Has she done me wrong? She doesn’t even know she’s impacted my heart and mind, and I’m sure if she knew, she wouldn’t care. I am not her judge . . . and that thought helps. I can forgive her. Apparently, I was standing in the judge’s seat, and that position is not mine, but God’s. And with that, I can let the stuck word melt away in my brain.

A 2022 Update. I would dance if I could, and I enjoy an occasional sip of wine, but I still choose not to add profanity to my vocabulary. I thank my parents for the example they set.

Photo by Liliana Drew on Pexels.com

Tender Mercies

Journal 2008. When I read “. . . heart of tender mercy and lovingkindness of our God (Luke 1:78), I have a hard time reconciling in my mind God’s tender mercies with His terrible judgment. Sure, I believe that murderers and rapists and idolaters need God’s judgment, but He died for their sins too.

My dilemma, however, is not with them but with me. Where in my life have I misunderstood and not accepted God’s tender love and mercy? Am I self-condemning where I should be accepting? Do I have a false belief that if I accept His tender mercies, it means I deserve it? That cannot be, for if I deserve it, it becomes my works, and then pride follows.

I am no better than the pagan. I have simply followed the path God put me on. He gave me the parents, the heritage, the grounding, and the training. Why wouldn’t I respond the way I have? If I had been born into a peasant hut in China of Buddhist heritage, would I not have followed the path He set me on and gone into a Christless eternity? How fair is that?

I am blessed, chosen, humbled, undeserving. Why did God choose me? I don’t know. But once chosen, I had a choice—follow Him or disobey. I chose to follow; I don’t know why. I could have had a rebellious, angry, defiant heart. I credit my response to my parents and how they raised me.

I was chosen for some reason. God likes me and the way He made me. He thinks I’m special. I cannot worry about His relationship with the rest of humanity. I can only sit in awe and wonder that He loves me—me of all people!

Jesus gave me gifts—a bag of chocolates. And He wants me to share them—hand them out, give them away, offer them to anyone who comes into my path. I’ve been chosen, yes—to be a blessing.

Prejudgment

From my 2013 Journal.

I stood in line at the Wal-Mart return counter behind a beautiful, young black lady linked arm-in-arm with a white man. From my view of their backs, it appeared to be an unlikely pairing. His head tilted a little to the left as if in affection. In my right periphery, another strange couple appeared—a white man with a very obese woman. Though there were two employees behind the counter, we all lined up single file so we could approach whichever clerk became available next.

I tsked under my breath when the couple to my right inched their way forward and nudged into line beside me. Though inwardly indignant, I remained outwardly gracious. If they wanted to be rude and ignore protocol, that was their problem.

The couple in front of me advanced to the counter, and I stepped forward to take their spot. At that moment, the couple on the right pushed past me to get in line directly behind the first couple. Astonished at their brazenness, I turned to the lady behind me to observe her reaction and mirrored her surprise. I shrugged and rolled my eyes as if to say, “Some people! Whatever!”

When the first couple finished their transaction, both couples turned and exited the room together. That’s when realization dawned. These were two special-needs people with their caretakers. The second couple was simply trying to stay close to their group. I felt duly ashamed of myself for my prejudgment. God forgive me!

Judgmentalism

From my 2012 Journal. We tend to focus on different things at different seasons of our lives. For example, when our daughter Cindy took a course in human anatomy for her degree in sculpture, she couldn’t help but notice the shapes of different people’s noses, eyes, and hairlines. As a young mom now, I suspect she’s focusing more on toddler behavior.

Cynthia’s self-bust

I, on the other hand, learned to critique a speaker’s vocal quality and body language for my oral interpretation degree. Perhaps that’s what kicked into high gear last night when I attended an evening church service. I found myself distracted by what I observed on stage. The words to a song splashed onto the screen, the worship leaders stepped up to the front in unison, each dressed to perfection—except that I think one is too perfectI wonder what that rigidity looks like in her daily life? One dresses fashionably, I muse, but the fashion doesn’t suit her. Another is not petite enough. (What?! I just critiqued “the perfect one” as being too petite!) Arrggh! What’s wrong with my mind? I’m noticing the outward appearance, but inwardly, I’m critiquing: too perfect, too immodest, wounded, relaxed, etc.

I’m not God, and I can’t see into another person’s heart, so where do I come off having the right to judge and critique someone else’s inner soul? Yes, the externals give clues to the internals and, because of my counselor’s training, I’m getting better at noticing. But I don’t like the consequences. It’s distracting to my focus on worship. I’m not these people’s judge . . . or have I become one? When did I take on this role, and how do I stop it? It’s one thing to notice; it’s another to critique and then to judge.

So why do I do it? I think to myself, This person needs fixing! Yikes! What an ugly thought! That’s God’s job, not mine.

What if I focused on creativity and beauty instead of flaws? What if I celebrated our differences and our choices instead of our motives? Celebrated the colors on stage. Observed the style of clothing from a designer’s eye, appreciating the variety of shapes and sizes and textures rather than as a critique of a person’s character. I need to separate the physical from the internal.

So when does assessment turn into judgmentalism? Or pride? Or contempt? Or pity? Or concern? Or compassion? Have I created a standard in my mind for right and wrong that is different from God’s standard? God’s measuring stick is absolute (don’t lie, hate, lust, covet). My standard is a moving target based on cultural norms, a person’s age, historical time periods, etc.

And so I begin by stating an observation regarding externals:

  • She’s large-boned / He’s shorter than average
  • She wears high necklines / she has a plunging neckline
  • She has 4 visible tattoos / he has none
  • She wears tight-fitting jeans / he wears saggy pants
  • He has shoulder-length hair / she has short, spiky hair

It becomes an assessment when I draw plausible conclusions based on past experience or training. The assessment is not wrong IF I acknowledge that it is an educated guess:  it could be that . . . I wonder if . . . most people like this are. . . . But concluding (without knowledge) what’s in a person’s heart is presumptuous. For example:

  • She’s too skinny / plump because she’s on weight-gaining drugs, she was abused as a child, she has no self-discipline, she has a food disorder, etc.
  • She shows cleavage because she wants to attract men’s attention, she has a “wardrobe malfunction,” she grew up in an Africa village where it’s culturally acceptable, etc.
  • She has tattoos because she wants to fit in with her peers, because she wants to permanently remember an event, because she’s rebelling against parental restrictions, etc.
  • And so on and so forth.

This exercise of the mind morphs into sinful pride (The Elder Brother syndrome) when I begin to compare myself to another person and indulge in feelings of superiority:  I would never do that. . . I’m better than he/she. How sick is that!

I think about Zacchaeus the tax collector. How would I have judged him I wonder . . . a short, fat, greedy, mean, traitorous man? But Jesus sees into his repentant, hurting heart and begins a love relationship with him.

Visual: I see mobs of people milling around. Some are blind, others are crippled, and many are wearing arms in slings. Others hide behind facial masks, believing they’re safer that way; but their restricted vision prevents them from seeing the truth. They’re all dressed in filthy rags, covering painful sores. A pitiful lot.

And then I watch as a drop of Living Water falls gently onto one person. Like a drop of soap in a dishpan with oil, the ripples spread out and a path of clean is created. And more drops fall, and the people turn their faces skyward. Blinded eyes see, slings fall off, and crippled legs are straightened. But some are frightened by the foreign matter, and they run from the moisture . . . because water and dirt create mud streaks on their face, and they feel self-conscious.

And so I begin to let go of my judgmentalism. I now see their fear instead of their sin; their timidity instead of their stubbornness.

The rain is gentle and soothing and inviting. I allow myself to be bathed in it, cleansed, forgiven. I sense the sweet wooing of the Savior. And now instead of judgment, I feel sorrow for those who struggle, for I am one of them.

Suddenly the focus of my prayers change. I don’t pray for the person to have a change of heart; I pray for God’s mercy to let a drop of His Spirit fall on him/her. I appeal to God to pour out His love and woo the stubborn, judgmental heart—starting with mine.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart (I Samuel 16:7).

On Losing Weight

From my 2009 Journal. This Sunday I watched a particularly well-padded lady at church who loves to move to the music. I’m fascinated to watch human flesh respond this way in motion. Why does this mesmerize me? I feel sorry for the lady, but in truth I feel sorry for me. Here she is, obviously enjoying the joy of the Lord and (seemingly) oblivious to the fact that the people around her are watching. I feel like slapping myself for my rudeness in staring.

Here’s what I’m thinking: “If she only knew what she looked like . . .” Is that what people say when they watch me? If I don’t like what I see in the mirror, why should others?

I confess my fascination, my rudeness. Why am I not very tolerant of obesity? Why so critical? Is this self-righteousness? There’s always someone who is heavier than I am, and I’m envious of those who are thinner. I don’t like the numbers I read on the scale. I want to lose some weight, but why? To fit my clothes better? To feel better physically? To feel better about my looks?

The one I want to explore is Reason #3. Is this vanity? Where am I getting the belief that thin is beautiful, that I’ll look better in the eyes of others if my underarms don’t jiggle or my stomach is flat?

Though I’d not say I am obese, I do know I’m not at an ideal weight at the moment. What would motivate me to give up one thing in order to gain something else? My strongest drive, and the only one I think, that would work to help me lose weight, is to believe that it would please my Savior. But is that true? He loves me no more, no less, if I’m fat or thin.

What I do know is that obesity is often a symptom of a heart need. It’s just that an obese person’s issues are visible, whereas the issues of a thin person may not be. When I’m judgmental of people who are overweight, I fail to address my own hidden hurts.

Ok, now that the issue is out on the table, what do I do with it?

I’m currently reading Bill Thrasher’s book A Journey Into Victorious Praying. He states, “God wins His greatest victories in the midst of apparent defeat” and “God uses the needy moments in life to prepare us for His work.” And when anticipating temptation, “think ahead and ask God to give you a prayer burden to pray each time you are tempted to go back to your previous lifestyle . . . Make it a prayer that will damage Satan’s kingdom as God answers it” (pp. 33-35).

Suddenly I realize that I haven’t talked to God yet about my desire to lose weight. Oops.

As I pray, I hear Jesus say, “Step into the light. The mirror and the camera don’t lie.” First I have to come out of denial, acknowledge the truth, and confess my vanity. And then I ask God to reveal to me what’s really in my heart. I am willing to stop filling the empty place with food and I ask Him to fill it with something of Himself instead.

I can now see the church lady in all her beauty, loving God in full abandon. God knows her heart. It’s no longer about me.

Chocolate