Every January, I pick a word for the year that I feel the Lord wants me to focus on. This year I’ve gone back and forth more than usual.
I had first chosen a word that seemed to fit where I was. It would stretch me. I had even started a post on it. But then I sensed the Lord whispering another word to me. A word I didn’t like. A word that wasn’t pretty. Or appealing.
Not charitable in terms of giving money to the poor. But charitable as defined by, “Apt to judge others leniently or favorably.”
I wrestled with this word for a while. I didn’t like it. I didn’t want it.
But I needed it.
It’s hard to confess the ugliness of my heart. I make snap judgments about people. Strangers and friends. Whether I know their situation or not. Solely based on appearances and circumstantial evidence.
Consider a recent morning before a flight. I get to the airport later than I want to because I overslept. I assume we will find a parking spot near the front, but all the handicapped spaces are taken. Since several of the parked cars don’t have placards, I determine these drivers are selfish and able bodied. As I go by, I hope they’ll get a ticket.
Inside the terminal, the person at the ticket counter is slow. I wonder why they keep her because she seems inefficient and incompetent. They need to get younger people, I muse to myself. People who know what they’re doing.
Waiting in line, I notice the person in the front is holding everyone up because she cannot find her ID or her ticket. She is frantically rummaging through her purse. I roll my eyes and wonder why she is so disorganized. Didn’t she know what she would need before she got in line?
After we check in, I wait for a wheelchair. I keep glancing at my watch – we are going to be late. Why are they so slow? The wheelchair assistant who arrives 20 minutes later speaks halting English. His second week on the job, he isn’t sure how to get through the long security line. Of course, I’d get him. New to the job. New to the country. New to the language.
When we finally get to the gate, I see several young children darting around people’s legs, playing tag. The airport is no place for tag. Someone could get hurt. Why are these parents not doing anything? Can’t they get their kids under control?
And then there is the pour soul sitting beside me on the plane with a hacking cough and apparently no cough drops or Kleenex...
I’ll mercifully stop sharing my internal monologue here. You’re welcome.
In less than an hour, I judged and condemned almost everyone I encountered. Because I was worried about missing my flight due to my own negligence. And then I was inconvenienced. While I didn’t voice my thoughts, critical judgments floated effortlessly through my mind.
Of course, I conveniently forgot how difficult it was for me with young children and how often they were out of control. Or how I didn’t know the language when I went to France, and struggled to make myself understood. Or how nervous I was at a new job. Or how often I have felt unprepared and overwhelmed by everything in front of me. Or how confused I have gotten under pressure. Or how frequently I have forgotten to display my placard while parked in a handicapped spot.
When I make mistakes, I want to be given the benefit of the doubt. I want grace and patience. Understanding. Yet under the same circumstances, I offer others the least charitable explanation. I assume the worst. I offer no grace.
It often starts with selfishness. Or my own negligence. Or self-righteousness. And then I’m inconvenienced. Which turns to annoyance. Which leads to judgment. And unspoken disapproval.
But not everyone is so fortunate to have my silent disapproval. My children are often subjected to my very outspoken judgment.
When a dirty bowl is left in the living room, I’m sure I know who left it there. Because she couldn’t be bothered to put it in the sink. If someone is late when we need to leave the house, I assume it was because she waited until the very last minute to get ready. I start the lecture even before we get in the car. If my daughter is late for her curfew, I automatically assume she disregarded my instructions and deliberately tried to get away with being late.
All too often, I believe the worst about other’s motives.
Jonathan Edwards in his book Charity and its Fruits describes charitable judgments as “a disposition to think the best of others that the case will allow.”
As a Christian, I should automatically assume the best unless I have facts to prove otherwise. I need to be predisposed to think that way. Out of my love for God.
But how? How can I possibly be charitable when I am predisposed to the opposite?
Even as I write this, I know I cannot be charitable myself. I can see what a charitable attitude looks like but I have no power to change my heart. I can only look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith. By myself I cannot overcome my sin, but I can refuse to cling to it, laying it down at His feet.
And as I lean on Jesus, He can give me new eyes. The eyes of forbearance and not judgment. The eyes of humility and not pride. The eyes of love and not resentment. The eyes of Christ Himself.
Jesus needs to do this in me, through me, for me, as I yield every thought to Him.
Every time I am tempted to make an uncharitable judgment, I need to stop and consider what the most charitable explanation might be. The kind of explanation I would offer for those I love and respect the most.
And then offer it all to Christ.
In 2016, I am asking Jesus to make me charitable. To make me more like Him.
But while He’s working on me, you may want to stay out of my way at the airport.