Authored by Marie Story
The Prayer of Saint Francis says, “Master, grant that I may not seek … to be understood, [but] to understand.” It’s not easy to understand others. Each person comes with a different background, different experiences, different hopes and dreams, so what makes perfect sense to me might seem like nonsense to someone else.
Because we’re all wired so differently, it can be pretty challenging to understand why people think and act the way they do. I think the natural tendency, though, is to assume others are like us—or to expect them to be like us. This can cause us to jump to conclusions.
The problem with jumping to conclusions is that we very often miss landing on the right conclusion. I could assume that something someone did or said was stupid, arrogant, or unkind because I don’t understand their motives. I might figure that I would never say or do something that way; and since I have no idea why anyone would say or do something that way, I assume the other guy must just be rotten.
It is so easy to assume. It is much tougher to take the time to find out the reasons behind a person’s actions or attitudes. It means we have to step out of our own shoes—our own understanding, experiences, likes and dislikes—and into someone else’s.
The Bible tells us to “judge not.”1 But sometimes it feels like people need to be judged. They deserve to be judged. Because they’re rotten. And we’d never do the things they do.
When it seems like someone else is wrong, weird, or even just different, it’s hard to see much else. Before we even try to understand them, we get tripped up on what we see at first glance. We put that weirdo in a box, slap a label on it, and that’s that.
Well, I could just say, “You’re not perfect, so don’t judge others,” and wrap up this article there. But while we know (technically) that we’re not perfect ourselves, that’s often quickly forgotten when we’re confronted by the seeming imperfections of others. I know that when I see a flaw in someone else, the last thing I’m thinking is “Well, I’m not perfect either. …”
But what if I were perfect. Would I then be in a place to judge?
There was one perfect Guy. He never sinned—never has and never will. If anyone’s in a position to judge, He is. Of course, I’m talking about Jesus.
So how did He deal with other people and their screw-ups? What kind of example did He set for dealing with all those less-than-perfect people? Let’s take a look.
When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well,2 everyone pretty much had her pegged as a screw-up. She had been married five times, and when Jesus met her, she was living with a guy who wasn’t her husband at all. She was going against the social norms of that day, and according to the law she “deserved” to be judged by others. This woman was likely a popular topic for the town rumor mill. Perhaps people whispered as she passed by and cast judgmental glances.
Instead of getting to know and understand her, others shunned her. When they looked at her, all they saw were the labels they had placed on her. Perhaps that’s why she was at the well in the midday heat when no one else would be drawing water—she figured she could get water in peace without being bullied.
So when Jesus came rolling into town and met her at the well, He had a prime opportunity to set her straight on a few things. That wasn’t His objective. Jesus didn’t judge her. He didn’t write her off at face value—based on her appearance or her history. He took the time to really look at her. He saw more than just a woman with a questionable past. He knew there was more to her than that, and He chose to look past her mistakes.
Jesus sat with that woman and listened to her questions, her doubts, her misgivings. He took the time to answer her. He saw all she was and all she could be. Obviously, Jesus understood her well enough to be able to reach her on her own level, because she ran back to tell the whole town about Him. She had known Jesus not even a day, but she trusted Him enough to point to Him as the Savior.
Because Jesus truly understood her, He was able to reach not only her but many others in that Samaritan town. How often do we judge people based on their appearance or their actions, without first trying to understand what makes them tick? How often do we label others—and then treat them according to those labels—never stopping to hear their full story?
One example of the point I want to make: I read an interesting article about celebrities who were bullied as children. They were different, they didn’t fit in with the rest of the “normal” kids, so they were bullied, teased, and shunned.
Robert Pattinson decided at a young age that he wanted to be an actor, so he behaved like he thought an actor should. This probably wasn’t a very endearing quality, and he often ended up a target for bullying.3
Christina Aguilera’s goal as a kid was to be a pop star, and she worked hard at it. Her peers often bullied her for that, though. They often threatened her and would try to embarrass her on stage.4
Lady Gaga was ostracized and teased for having a big nose, and being ugly and annoying. People made fun of the way she dressed and the way she wore her makeup because it wasn’t “in fashion.”5
These three individuals each had a vision and worked hard at achieving success; yet sometimes working to get good at something can be an embarrassing road, and initial efforts are not always well received. But that’s often when someone needs understanding and encouragement the most. If some of those bullies had instead taken the time to befriend them, they might have appreciated the qualities that allowed these stars to achieve such great success.
Who knows what friendships you might be missing out on by choosing labels and assumptions instead of love and understanding? Perhaps that girl you’ve labeled and avoided is at a point in her life where she could desperately use a word of encouragement or a friendly gesture; but you’ll miss out on that potential relationship if you don’t bother trying to understand her. Perhaps that guy who seems weird has the potential to enrich your life in some way; but you’ll never know if you don’t take the “weirdo” label off of him.
Romans 14:13 tells us to “stop passing judgment on one another.”6 You’ll never understand others when you’re judging and labeling. You’ve got to let go of the labels before you can see what’s underneath.
When you take time to really understand someone, you’ll find it much harder to judge them. When you take the time to listen and to dig a little deeper into someone else’s life, suddenly the things they do and say start to make a lot more sense. And that’s when you can truly know someone and love them.
1 Matthew 7:1.
2 John 4:4-42.
6 New International Version.
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by Simon W. Copyright © 2012 by The Family International