On Friday, I got a nasty email from a lawyer representing one of the opposing parties in a case I’m handling. His tone was chastising to say the least, and he accused our staff and me of not following the rules of procedure.
I could almost hear him pounding his fist on his desk through cyberspace as I read his email. And when I finished it, I was fuming. It took an extra measure of self-control not to fire back a nasty response. Particularly at the end of a very busy week. And particularly having been falsely accused.
But instead, knowing that our staff members had done precisely what they were supposed to do, I took a deep breath, got out of my chair, walked out of my office, and began to work with them to gather the evidence. Within five minutes, I was armed with proof that we had satisfied our obligation under the rules, and I began to draft a response.
I’ll make a confession though.
I was still tempted to be nasty.
Even with a five minute break.
And I had a real zinger of a response already drafted in my head.
But instead of taking the nasty approach, and thanks to the intervention of the Holy Spirit (who saves my back side all the time), I decided to take the high road. I explained to him that we had sent him everything we were required to send him by email. That my assistant had gotten “read receipts” from the other two people in his office that we were supposed to copy, but that we hadn’t received a read receipt from him. I told him I suspected that the email had gotten hung up in his junk mail.
I attached the evidence.
And I was right.
Less than five minutes later, I received an email back from him apologizing profusely for his prior email. He knew his tone was harsh, and he sincerely felt bad about it.
But why didn’t he give us the benefit of the doubt in the first place? If he had, maybe he wouldn’t have had to eat crow.
(I’ll make another confession though. It felt good to be right. Oh the humanity!)
Fast forward twenty four hours to Saturday afternoon.
I was taking my weekly trip to Costco. (Who knew that three children under the age of 10 could eat so much? The thought of the grocery bill we’ll have with teenage boys in the house someday scares me silly.)
It not only included a long list of purchases to stock our pantry, but I also had a return to make. Because on the prior Saturday, I had purchased a box of YUMMY peaches from Costco. And two days later? Those peaches were recalled by the peach orchard that supplied them.
Of course they were.
Of all the peaches I could have purchased, I purchased the ones from the VERY SMALL BATCH (according to the cashier) that were recalled. And my family ingested half of them before I learned that they needed to be thrown out.
Of course they did.
Thankfully, no one got sick. But there’s always something (or someone) trying to shoot our wheels off isn’t there?
In any event, I forgot to get the recalled peaches out of the car when I went in to Costco (despite turning my ring around — a trick I learned from my mom years ago — and taping a post-it note to my steering wheel) and didn’t realize I had forgotten them until my cart was half-filled. So I finished shopping, packed my loot in the car, grabbed the recalled peaches, and went back in to the store to make the return.
But when I got there, the return line was like 300 feet long. I promise it was. And I began to panic because I had some refrigerated items in my trunk, and I didn’t want them to go bad too. But I was determined to return the peaches. We’ve put ourselves on a tighter budget, and by golly, I wanted my money back!
As I stood there waiting, a woman in line behind me kept edging up on my left side. At first, I could see just the very front of her cart out of my peripheral vision. But as the time passed, she continued to gain on me until she was standing right beside me.
I felt a bit like a NASCAR driver trying to keep her place at the front of the pack.
And I was thinking to myself:
“Who do you think you are trying to cut in front of me? I have peaches to return and groceries in the car that are going to spoil if I don’t get back out there! Back up lady. You’re NOT taking my place in line!”
And I started to edge my cart in front of her just to make sure that she knew her place.
Yes. I. Know.
Jesus said that whoever is last will be first.
But let’s get real people. We all know how it works at Costco. Whoever is first will be first, and I was finally at the front of the line!
(OH THE HUMANITY!)
But then I realized what was going on. The return line had gotten so long (probably filled with a bunch of people returning funky peaches) that a traffic jam had formed with the people trying to get out of the store. One of the Costco employees was asking the people behind me to form a line to my left to alleviate the congestion. And she was saying:
“You’ll keep your place in line, but if you could move over to the left and up a little bit, it will help ease the congestion at the front of the store.”
This lady wasn’t trying to cut in line. She was trying to help ease the traffic. God bless her for following instructions.
Thankfully I hadn’t said anything to her. But that didn’t excuse the condition of my heart. Because I hadn’t given her the benefit of the doubt. I had passed judgment. And I was irritated. Even if only in my head.
How many times does that happen to us? (I say “us” because misery does love company, and I’m secretly hoping I’m not alone in this.)
We witness a parent struggling with a child, and we pass judgment on their parenting skills.
We encounter a less-than-friendly clerk in the check out line, and we assume they’re rude.
We see a homeless person on the street, and we’re certain we know they’re story.
We get cut off in traffic, and we jump to the conclusion that we were purposefully violated.
But things aren’t always as they seem. In fact, they rarely are. There’s almost always something that we don’t know. And it serves us well when we give others the benefit of the doubt.
It’s not always easy. But it’s the right thing to do. For a lot of reasons.
It holds us accountable to speak life to others instead of death and judgment.
It provides us opportunities to share the grace of Jesus Christ with those who may not know Him or who may need a glimpse of His face during a tough day.
It challenges us to ask ourselves how we might make a tangible difference for a person in need.
And it protects us from cynicism. A heart condition that I believe is extremely contagious and very destructive.
John Wesley once said that “[w]e should be rigorous in judging ourselves and gracious in judging others.”
That man was packed full of wisdom and never afraid to challenge. And he hit the nail on the head.
Because I’m learning that when I “judge graciously,” it not only provides me an opportunity to minister to others, but it also warms my own heart and keeps my spirit well. And that helps me embrace other opportunities throughout the day to be the person God is calling me to be in this world.
Who might you need to “judge graciously” today?