As a mother and youth minister, I have always said to my biological children and to the teens of the Youth Group, “don’t judge others before you get to know them…people are not often what they appear to be…how someone acts and how they are when you have a conversation with them can be two different things”.
We consider our family to be an average everyday family. Both parents work, the children attend public school, and we attend church together on Sundays. When my oldest daughter was a freshman in high school she had the opportunity to go with the church youth group on a ski trip. She really wanted to go, but like all teenagers it was important for her to know who else would be going. When I told her who the other two girls were that would be going on the trip (I’ll call them Kim and Jill) she wasn’t so sure she really wanted to go. Her response was, “Kim is a prep and Jill is a snob and stuck-up”. I immediately said, “You don’t even know these girls. If you got to know them you might find out you like them”. Of course she responded with more negativity.
I convinced her to go on the trip since she really wanted to. When I went to pick her up, guess what? She had a great time. After hugging everyone good-bye she got into the car and said, “Mom, you were right. Kim is the sweetest person and Jill is hysterical. I had the best time. They really aren’t how they appear to be in school”. Lesson learned. Right? Well, you would think so. However, Mom had a rude awaking when she discovered she wasn’t practicing what she preached.
While on a mission trip with the youth group the adults were required to attend a mandatory meeting one afternoon to help prepare them for that evening’s program. All the programs each evening had been fun and full of praise and worship, singing, and skits. This evening was going to be more serious program for the teens and the directors wanted to inform the adults of what to expect. During the meeting this one particular man would not quit interjecting his thoughts and opinions. He had been on this particular mission before and knew what to expect, but I thought he was being a know-it-all, one of those people who had to be the center of attention, and he was causing this meeting to be dragging on. I just wanted him to be quiet and let the directors talk. He really aggravated me and I instantly had a negative opinion of him.
That evening at program the teens were able to go and pray with an adult about whatever issues were on their mind. They could ask the adult to pray for them, pray for others, or just to listen to them while they talked. When the teens were done the adults would also have the same opportunity to go and pray with another adult if they wanted to.
My father was a recovering alcoholic and had been sober for ten years. A few months before this trip he began to drink again. He was constantly on my mind and in my prayers. So, I thought I would go and sit with one of the other adults to pray with me. When I ventured forward to the prayer area there was only one person who did not have someone with him praying. Guess who? It was the know-it-all from the adult meeting earlier that day. Well, I couldn’t turn around because he was staring right at me and that would have been rude. I really did not want to go and share with him, but I moved toward him and sat down. When I began to share with him about my concerns for my father he began to smile with a tear in his eye. I stopped talking. He said, “Isn’t amazing how God brings two people together? I am a recovering alcoholic and I have been sober for 6 years. I know what my drinking did to my family and how it affected us all”. We talked for a while and he was wonderful to talk to, compassionate, and understanding. I realized that during the meeting he was just trying to help prepare us for the evening from his own experiences at past missions.
I had to reflect on my experience with my daughter a year earlier and realize that if I was going to lecture and give advise about judgment, I should probably listen to myself first and “practice what I preach”. I now share that story when I’m trying to explain how easy it is for all of us to be trapped under the umbrella of judgment, but also to let them know you can learn from it as a guide to give everyone a fair chance. I certainly have and reflect on my own experience each time I am tempted to judge before knowing.
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