Friday, June 01, 2007

More to the Story

You're sitting in a restaurant (not a fancy one--just a casual family restaurant), and the toddler at the table nearby starts crying. You roll your eyes, or maybe shoot a glare in the parents' direction. All you wanted was to enjoy a nice meal out, in peace. Shut that kid UP! you think to yourself (or maybe mutter to your dining companions).

But what if that toddler had just been diagnosed with a serious medical condition? What if those parents had spent a few days earlier that week in the hospital with their son, watching their precious child hooked up to tubes and wires, wondering what was wrong or how they would deal with it? What if this toddler was normally a delightful child when they took him out in public, and the ordeal he'd been through, combined with his new medication, had suddenly made him a completely different child? What if the parents were trying to enjoy a break with some friends, and were feeling so exhausted and overwhelmed that they just didn't have the heart to be harsh with their little boy?

Would you look at the situation differently? Would you give them a little grace?

Or a more superficial example...

You're sitting in a dark theater, enjoying a professional stage production. Suddenly some latecomers shuffle in and take their seats. What is wrong with people? you think to yourself. How rude! Is it that hard to show up on time?

But what if that family had traveled in from a different time zone? What if their tickets were waiting at Will Call, and there had been confusion or a misunderstanding with the ticket salesman on the phone about the time? What if they thought they were responsibly arriving over half an hour early to the show--only to walk in the lobby and find out, to their dismay and embarrassment, that they'd missed the first four songs of Act I?

Would you step off your judgment a little? Would you maybe even sympathize?

Neither of these scenarios is hypothetical. And in each one, I was reminded: I don't know the whole story. When I make snap judgments of people--when I shoot glares or mutter comments or simply size them up in my head--I have no idea what's really going on. Passing judgment is simply a way for my pride to assert itself, to lie to me yet again about how I'm better than those people, how I'd do things the right way.

After experiencing the first situation above a few weeks ago, I planned to blog about it, but Josh Longbrake actually beat me to the topic. He had some great thoughts on this recently, focusing more on others' big-picture stories than on the individual circumstances I saw:

It’s terribly easy for me to judge people, especially those that I don’t know.

...He’s going too slow. She’s so loud. They are in everyone’s way. She’s rich and she knows it. If he would just have some self respect. Why does she dress like that? He’s always talking.

But everyone has a story. Everyone has a past. Everybody has been shaped by something. One parent. No parents. Economic situation. Rape. Culture. Orphaned. Pain. Struggle. Lack of pain and struggle. Death. Divorce. Privilege. Popularity. People are shaped by situations and the people that surround them.

Everyone has a story.

And when you know someone’s story, it changes everything, doesn’t it? Your friends who act certain ways, ways which would annoy you if they were from a stranger, are given grace because you know them. You understand them. He acts that way because of this. And she does those things because of that. You understand. Everyone who knows them understands. It’s the strangers, though…

When we come to the realization that everyone has a story, it changes how we treat people. ...because there’s a story, there is grace.

If only I can remember this lesson the next time I see someone acting in a way I don't "approve" of--and exchange judgment for grace.


Kelly said...

Hi Amy!
I just wanted you to know I've been praying for you a lot! I like this post. It hits home.

Love ya!

Anonymous said...

Great post...a few years ago I came to really understand what grace is about and how, as God has extended grace to me, I should extend it to others. In fact at the time I realized what the idea of "gracious living" was all about. I'd thought it was about an elegant home with all the acoutrements, or having perfect manners in any given situation...but finally understood it was an hospitable home, a charitable manner, where "grace" was the rule. I discovered I can be gracious wherever I the line at the grocery store, behind the steering wheel of my get the idea...grace is giving, extending to others that good "thing" that perhaps they may not deserve, but because of love, which thinks no evil, i.e. gives the benefit of the doubt, you extend "it", ie. grace, anyway....remembering "that while we were YET sinners...Christ died for us!!" can we do less if we are His disciple? But on the flipside, while being gracious comes from a place of love and "strenth", we must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, and assess all situations and not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of...mind you I said "taken"...when we give someone the advantage, as an extension of grace, then it is of our free will...but in our effort to extend grace we must also not be foolish...we must dispense grace wisely...there is a time to protest or make a complaint, etc. assertively albeit seasoned with grace....

Zoanna said...

Oh, boy, this is such a good post. So good to think about. I too often rationalize why I make judgments (as if judging weren't bad itself by itself). I'm trying to learn to invent "what if" stories to help me love people on the spot rather than judge them.
As in, "what if this is her first day out of physical therapy and she is still afraid of falling? That's why she's shuffling along."
What if his wife was just diagnosed with cancer and his head's in a fog? Maybe that's why he didn't use his blinker. What if her toddler is screming, "I just peed my pants, Mommy!" and she was up all night changing sheets. Mabye that's why she's sitting at the green light. Who knows. Wish I was as gracious in real life as I am on the computer surmising scenarios.