Monday, May 5, 2008

May, 2008-- You be the judge (or not)

About a year ago, when Jamie was three, I needed a crown put on a tooth and in an effort to avoid thinking about what a bad day that would be—I’m deathly afraid of the dentist—I did not make child care plans for Jamie. The morning of my appointment, I called up my friend Kathleen and asked if Jamie could come over to play with her four-year-old.
            “Sure, bring her over,” she said.
            As I dropped Jamie off, Kathleen mentioned offhandedly that she was also taking care of her 1- and 2-year-old niece and nephew that morning because their mom just had a baby, and would I mind if she took all four kids to McDonald’s?
            I was appalled that I had put Kathleen in a position that she would be watching my child in addition to two extras, but with 20 minutes until my appointment, I had little choice but to leave Jamie there. I thanked Kathleen extensively, wished her luck, and left.
            After my appointment, when I picked Jamie up, I asked Kathleen how it went. She said the kids were great and listed all the things she had done with them. A marching parade; coloring time; and Ring-around-the-Rosie at home. Then off to McDonalds where there was tag in the indoor playground and French fries and chicken nuggets for lunch.
            “There was one bad part, though,” Kathleen said. She went on to say that after about three hours into entertaining the four toddlers, when they were all sitting quietly eating, she made a quick call to a friend to chat, while sitting with them in the booth. As she was speaking on her cell phone, a woman came up to her and admonished her for not paying attention to the children.          
            “She told me that my children needed my attention, and I shouldn’t be talking on the phone,” Kathleen said. “She was quite angry with me.”
            Kathleen didn’t explain to the woman that she had been playing with the children all morning and this was her first five-minute break of the day, but I had an strong urge find the woman and explain that myself. How dare that woman judge my friend—here she was, helping both a mom with a newborn, and me, with my newly crowned tooth, when she didn’t need to help either of us.
            Kathleen’s story reminds me how easy it is to judge others— and the risk we take by making a comment when we don’t know the whole story.
            The day after Teenasia entered our house as a foster child for the third time in five years, I brought her to our local public school to register her. As we walked in the office, the first thing the secretary said to her — even before hello — was, “Honey, you don’t need that thumb in your mouth, take it out.”  The comment was made in a sweet voice; Teenasia obliged and I didn’t say anything, but inside I was seething. With all T had just gone through, her thumb was about the only stable thing in her life at the moment. The secretary, of course, had no idea of all of this, and did not mean any harm. But every time we choose to criticize a situation we know little about, we take a risk.
            Fr. Mike Bertram, in his homily over the weekend, said that while sexual sins are often given the most press by those who like to point out sins, Jesus rarely spoke of them. Instead, Fr, Mike said, the sin Jesus mentioned the most was judging others. 
            Parents walk the line between using good judgment and being judgmental. If we are to keep our children safe; if we are to help them grow into the best people they can be, we cannot naively think only the best of everyone. To do so could put our children into harm’s way. Many times, as parents, we need to make a judgment about another parent’s decision that could impact our child. We need to use judgment about how well-chaperoned the party will be; what movies may be allowed in a particular household that our kids visit; how children are allowed to speak to adults in another household. So what is the difference then, between using good judgment and being judgmental?
            In talking about the dangers of being judgmental, Fr. Mike brought up the story of the adulterous woman at the well, and how Jesus protected her by inviting anyone without sin to cast the first stone. To me, that simple story is the illustration of the difference. The woman’s life was not intersecting with any of the stone-throwers. They had no reason to judge her.

            By repeatedly instructing us on the dangers of judging, Jesus is freeing us. Constantly being judgmental is exhausting. It requires us to tap into mental reserves to analyze the “facts” of a situation in order to make an assessment from those perceived facts. Jesus tells us to leave judging to God. In releasing us from the responsibility of judging others, Jesus gives us freedom to spend more time in examination of our own lives— freedom to simply live our lives. Jesus’ reminders not to judge protect us from ourselves—the less we judge, the less chance we will judge wrong.

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