Some things make me crazy. For example, I hate weeds in my garden; pushy people make me irrational; spotted windows challenge my inner OCD; and find another place to be if my computer, cell phone and/or iPad decide not to work. I try to keep it all in perspective, but some things are tipping points – plain and simple.
The thing that brings me to borderline insanity is when I am around people who have decided they know what I think without taking the time to talk with me about my beliefs and opinions. It seems to be epidemic in our culture today.
We watched a movie the other night. It was not Hollywood’s finest. In all actuality, the plot should have taken about 10 minutes. The film run time was padded with repeated statements, scene’s that made me ever so glad our children didn’t watch it with us and adjectives that would make a Sailor blush. (With all due respect to our United States Navy and what they do to protect and support humanitarianism and world freedom.) The scenario depicted three young men who were either leaving or avoiding relationships. One line made the movie worth the time we invested in it: “…and being there when someone needs you is all relationships are.”
Such a simple statement! It takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? Well, maybe. The key to understanding the concept of a relationship lies in the words “being there”. It reminds us that there is actually some form of responsibility involved in a relationship. Like, a relationship is more than simply enjoying another person’s company and having a good time hanging out with them. There comes a time when something draws us to dive beneath the surface and bring us to that place where we would support, help, guide, nurture, stand beside, rescue, protect, or praise the person we happen to say we are in a relationship with. You know, be there when life happens whether it’s a good or a not so good thing.
But, to be there you have to know the other person. What do they actually believe? How do they really feel about a situation? It isn’t enough to think you know about them simply because of some form of generalizations you make regarding their work, political slant, or spiritual beliefs. Nor is it fair to categorize anyone based on gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, the neighborhood they live in, the car they drive, the complexity or simplicity of their intellect or whether or not they have bad breath. Hmmm – it all sounds a lot like judging someone when we use these traits to assume we know what and how a person thinks.
In his amazing and divine wisdom, Jesus addressed this issue of judgment towards others. Some denominations have turned the concept of judging into a statement of eschatology complete with the false claim of having an insider’s knowledge of who will pass through the pearly gates and who will spend eternity in hell. Unfortunately, to believe that I am in the “saved” category simply because I ascribe to a particular self-righteous lifestyle and subsequently make attempts to bring you into the fold on the pretense that you must change your ways because they are different than mine and therefore they put you in the ‘unsaved’ category is nothing less than absurd. That perspective masks the true intent of Christ’s statement.
You see, Jesus’ messages to us are all pretty uncomplicated. The real beauty is that he didn’t just say them; he lived like he believed them. We all know his statement about the greatest two commandments. Many Christians don’t realize he begins with the Shema, the central prayer of the Jewish faith which can be found in Deuteronomy 6.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
In Matthew 22 Christ elaborates on the Shema, not changing it…rather expanding on the meaning of loving God.
He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
This should lead us to deepening our understanding of “loving” God. You see, when we love God with all of our hearts, with all of our souls and with all of our minds we also love all that God created and all that God loves…which is pretty much everything.
This brings us back to judging others and how doing so moves against the concept of love. Jesus gave us a simple statement for this as well.
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
There is something about our human nature that compels us to live by comparison, as if our achievement ratings make us something special. In essence, Jesus called this a myopic perspective. You know, things that are near can be seen clearly, but things that are far away become blurred. He just used logs and specks to make the point clear to his listeners. Sometimes we need a corrective lens to see the blurred images. Sometimes that lens is a long conversation that pulls us out of judging another and into a place of understanding the value of their opinions…even if we don’t agree with them.
Unfortunately, we have some form of misguided belief that friends are people who see eye to eye on everything. First, that isn’t really possible and second, watch how fast such a friendship fails when one party or the other experiences a differing opinion. Those kinds of friendships are based on looking at the other person as a reflection of ourselves and absolutely liking what we see. The more we look, the more we like…until we see a wart, a zit, a blemish that threatens the perfection of our egocentric self. Then, we judge…and they judge…we judge some more…and so it goes.
It is actually much easier to judge someone we don’t know at all. We read a news article or see a television report. Maybe we hear about them from a friend who heard something from another friend. By focusing on the other person’s perceived failures, I might feel pretty good about where I am in life. But, what if I actually meet that person and talk to them? What story will they be able to tell me about the experiences that drew them into certain behaviors or activities? How are their beliefs different than mine? Is there something I can learn from knowing who they are and where they come from? How will my life change as a result of knowing them? How will their life change as a result of knowing me?
Therein lies the depth of meaning in a simple statement from a decidedly bad movie. “Being there when someone needs you is all that relationships are.” To be there, I have to care. I have to know what will help and what won’t. To know those things can only come from knowing the other person. No, not assuming I know them and what’s best for them, but knowing who they are and what they need from me right now…right here.
There is a story about farming in Kenya. The farms were producing poorly. Mission groups talked about teaching the Kenyans to increase their crop production through irrigation systems, better seed, crop rotation and the techniques that American farmers use. However, when they sat down and talked with the Kenyans, they learned that the problem was because of elephants. The solution was to build fences to keep the elephants out of the crops.
Relationships = being there (conversation + listening + understanding – judgment)
There is nothing in the equation about agreeing with everything the other person says, does or believes. It’s essence is in caring enough about another person to take that proverbial walk in their shoes – along with them.