We’re all prone to a little pre-judgment, every single one of us, but when we’re the ones caught in the backdraft of horrible things done, when we have secrets to keep of things done to us, it does us even more harm when people point out our sin rather than become curious about why we think and behave the way we do.
It’s like the case of a homeless person. It’s pretty easy to think they’ve only got themselves to blame for their lot.
A few years ago, I was given the opportunity of being a street chaplain for about a year. My service was just about 3-4 hours per week on a Saturday night, and the occasional preach at the church. My job was simply to sit at the tables the homeless ate their meal at and just engage them in conversation — be friendly, be curious about them, listen, show interest in their lives — pastoral care 101.
In reality, I learned a great deal from the experience, and there were three very crucial relationships that emerged that helped me understand the depth of the struggle. These conversations impacted me greatly, here’s one I wrote down at the time: A Homeless Indigenous Man’s Compassion.
I came away from this overall experience enriched and a little less ignorant.
Questions we can ask ourselves. What’s going on deeper down inside someone who is driven to drink themselves into oblivion? Isn’t it masking pain? What trauma do these people bear? Just how many daily travesties have some people endured? Crimes happen to homeless people regularly because of their vulnerable situations. What have they suffered, and what do they continue to suffer? What about anger, depression, loss, anxiety, loneliness? Do you think there is any joy in them when they’re cursing the world? And shouldn’t we pray that those who are at war with themselves would find peace? So many seek peace and cannot find it in those environs.
Now what about the person who has survived abuse, who appears bitter, relationally disheveled, disabled to fear, cautious to forgive and trust again, is easily ‘triggered’, and who since has had some poor life outcomes indeed? Many have diagnosed conditions like PTSD for the trauma they’re endured. And for so many, it’s a plethora of conditions like depression, anxiety, dissociative disorders, etc.
Could it be possible that events in their life — events beyond their control — where they should have been cared for and were instead betrayed — have taken them on a path they, most of all, would never have chosen?
People who have never been abused or who have suffered very little often don’t know how blessed they are. Life is just normal, and there’s much less pain to face or deny.
We each have choices when it comes to the stories of others; to be suspicious or be curious; to be close-minded or open-hearted; to listen or go straight to judgment.
But be aware that being curious, open-hearted, and prepared to listen depends on our own hearts, knowing that we each fall short, and that suffering is real in many people’s lives.
The transactional analysis ‘critical parent’ in us can too often think that if someone puts forth a claim of any sort that it’s unkind and ungracious and that it invites rebuke.
Instead of pouncing on it to quash it, why not give it the hearing the person having the courage to share it deserves. It takes them real courage to speak up for themselves.
Most of us find it much easier to speak up for others, and many people won’t even do that. It takes enormous courage and vulnerability to defend ourselves — especially as Christians.
This is posed in the first person, but it applies universally. Before you point out my sin to me, come, spend a few moments, or a few hours, get to know me, and learn a little of my story. Then, you might understand why I behave and think the way I do. Then judge.
Everything makes much more sense when we understand more of the story.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Tribework