Give Someone a Break
by Joseph Franks
In Stephen Covey’s famous book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the following story is told:
I remember a mini-paradigm shift I experienced one Sunday morning on a subway in New York. People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed. It was a calm, peaceful scene. Then suddenly, a man and his children entered the subway car. The children were so loud and rambunctious that instantly the whole climate changed. The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, apparently oblivious to the situation. The children were yelling back and forth, throwing things, even grabbing people’s papers. It was very disturbing. And yet, the man sitting next to me did nothing. It was difficult not to feel irritated. I could not believe that he could be so insensitive as to let his children run wild like that and do nothing about it, taking no responsibility at all. It was easy to see that everyone else on the subway felt irritated, too. So finally with what I felt was unusual patience and restraint, I turned to him and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you could control them a little more?” The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? My paradigm shifted. Suddenly I saw things differently, because I saw differently, I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently. My irritation vanished. I didn’t have to worry about controlling my attitude or my behavior; my heart was filled with the man’s pain. Feelings of sympathy and compassion flowed freely. “Your wife just died? Oh, I’m so sorry! Can you tell me about it? What can I do to help?” Everything changed in an instant.
1 Samuel 16:7 states, “Do not look on his appearance … For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” This truth came from the Lord through the prophet. Initial assumptions are often wrong.
Proverbs 18:13 states, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” This proverb comes from a great judge. It comes to us from the pen of the wisest man ever to live. It is scripture. It is God-breathed. It is inspired. It is infallible truth. Clearly, men ought to be careful before pronouncing judgment on another.
In the Gospels, a characteristic of the pathetic Pharisees is their rash judgment of Jesus. They are consistently accusing the Righteous One of being in the wrong. This also seems to be a constant temptation for the disciples who are likewise prone to misjudge. One only has to remember their condemnation of the worshiping woman who poured out her perfume upon the feet of Jesus.
Friends, there is certainly a time when we must make just judgments, but we must be careful, humble, compassionate, selective, slow, and forgiving as we do so.
- Let us be careful — We are often errant in our judgment. We think we are brighter than we really are. We conclude we can rightly discern actions and intents. Let us see our weakness and weigh matters very carefully.
- Let us be humble — We are often arrogant in our judgment. We forget our particular failings, and fail to see how our internal sins are no different than our neighbor’s. Remember, we have logs in our eyes in comparison to our neighbor’s splinters. Too often we enjoy highlighting the sins of others because it seems to make us superior; this is because we are persistently self-righteous. Let us see our sin first and then figure out how to best respond.
- Let us be compassionate — We are often harmful in our judgment. When we do make a determination and declaration of right and wrong, it is not often done in a way that loves and serves our struggling neighbor. Out of a heart of compassion, let us exhort for improvement.
- Let us be selective — We can always find something to criticize. Perhaps we should only major on the majors?
- Let us be slow — We are too hurried in our judgment as we size up the situation, assess motives, come to our conclusion, and cast our verdict. Because we can be so often wrong, let us be incredibly patient, thorough, and slow.
- Let us be forgiving — Let us be quick to respond with mercy and grace, and let us not keep records of wrongs. In the words of Jesus, let us “forgive others their trespasses as we would like ours to be forgiven.”
Friends, today, let’s seek to be less judgmental and more merciful and gracious. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt. Let’s consider others better than ourselves. Let’s grant forgiveness to people even before they ask. God is the judge; we can leave most of this in his hands. Today, let’s give people a break! And when we must admonish and address wrong situations, let’s do so carefully, humbly, compassionately, selectively, and slowly. And let us be quicker to forgive than we are to judge.