A couple of weeks ago I was driving a van full of kids (some mine, some not) through a congested parking lot after stopping to get some fuel. As we neared the highway, you could see a woman holding a cardboard sign. It said that she had lost her job and could use some help. As we got close one of the kids sitting near me said something about the woman. I couldn’t understand what they said (very noisy in the van) so I asked, “What?” They simply pointed at her. I said, “Yes I see her.” And then I explained…
We are not going to stop. I have talked with this woman on three different occasions; once with her and her husband. I have given her a little cash, some food, and I have spent time simply talking with her there on the edge of the parking lot. I have offered to help her in several ways (including providing some work for her and her husband when they were together at this spot one day.) I told her about a program for the under and unemployed. All of my offers were rebuffed.
I ended by telling the couple of kids actually listening that I want to help, but don’t know what to do.
In the middle of this explanation I looked in the rearview mirror and noticed the car behind me had stopped, and a hand was passing cash out the window.
Here is my question: how should I and the car behind me view each other?
It would be easy to view what I did as lacking compassion. Perhaps it was. I drove right by someone with a sign asking for help. The driver of the car behind me could easily believe that I am a self-centered, selfish jerk who does not care about the hurting.
It would be easy for me to view the person behind me as a rube. They did not stop and talk to the woman. They simply handed cash out the window to assuage their guilt. And probably they drove away feeling superior to all us meanies.
I am not saying that any of those thoughts went through my heador the head of the other driver. But it wouldn’t surprise me. I see it all the time. You didn’t vote right so you are not compassionate. You didn’t give to the right cause so you don’t care about people. You drive or own or visit or buy from the wrong (fill in the blank) so you must not care about the environment. We constantly monitor others words and actions, and quickly make judgements about how “loving” they are. If someone treats another person in a way we disagree with, it is not enough to say we disagree. No, we say they did not “love.” And that is a pretty deep jab to take at someone.
When Jesus is anointed by a woman in Matthew 26, the disciples immediately judge her action as “not loving.” She could have sold the perfume and done a lot of good with the proceeds. But she didn’t. And the only one that seems okay with this is Jesus. I feel certain he would have thought it wonderful had she sold the perfume and given the money to charity. But he feels no need to judge her for the way she chooses to love.
My gut feeling is that many of us would have been right with the disciples. (And I have always wondered if they really thought she should give it to the poor, or they thought that’s what Jesus would want so that’s what they should say?) No matter their (and our) motivation, too often we rain down judgement not simply on acts of cruelty or evil, but acts of love. By continually judging others “love” we make ourselves susceptible to all kinds of foolishness.
1. We become the arbiters of what is loving. How often does “not loving” actually equate with “not doing what I think should be done.” I have decided the causes and activities worth pursuing and if you do something different then you don’t get it. Simply dismissing someone as “not acting out of love” has become the hip way of proclaiming “I am right and you are wrong.” Most of us hate when people do that. Yet we have found a way to proclaim our rightness that is hard to argue with: my way is loving, yours is not.
2. We refuse to grow. When I claim you didn’t love by doing or saying whatever, then I can disregard you. I don’t have to look at your motives or listen to your explanation. I don’t have to consider the possibility that you have more information than me. I am not required admit that you could be right or that maybe there is more than one way to do something. No. By claiming you didn’t love it means you are dismissed. So I don’t have to entertain the notion of changing or growing.
3. We disregard wisdom. I have a two-year old. I tie his shoes because I love him. I don’t want him to trip and bust his noggin. Tying his shoes is an act of love. I have a 13-year-old. He is capable and smart. I do not tie his shoes. He needs to take responsibility and do it on his own. In fact, for me to constantly tie his shoes would not be an act of love. You probably just said “duh.” But that is wisdom. The same act can be loving or not loving. It can help or hurt. A family refusing to give their grown child money may be a selfish or selfless act. It requires wisdom to love well. When we simply judge based on whether an action meets our pre-conceived notions of “loving” we are claiming to already possess all the wisdom we need.
I want to be a person of love. I want the world to be filled with love. Perhaps a starting place for that in my life is letting go of determining how well others are loving.