(To read Part One, click here)
A few years back, a publisher friend named Richard stunned me by announcing, after we’d completed a successful project together, that he would never work with me again. When I asked why, he said it was because I was “lazy” and “dishonest.” I grilled him as to how he’d reached this conclusion. He knew I was lazy, he said, after I failed to make changes based on the notes he’d given me (notes I disagreed with). He said my “excuses” were proof that I was dishonest. When I protested further, he said I was “deluded” and that he understood my true motives better than I did.
It was the most offensive thing anyone has ever said to me. Oh, sure, a few road-ragers have shouted viler things at me. But this was my friend, this was someone who mattered. It hurt like hell. And I mean that literally—judging has the distinct whiff of hell about it. But why did it hurt like hell? Because he hadn’t simply judged my words or actions, he’d judged me. He’d assigned motives.
There’s only one Being in the universe who knows us completely (even we don’t), and therefore, only He has a right and a reason to judge our motives. So, what constitutes right judgment for the rest of us?
Jesus tells us not to put ourselves in God’s place, but rather to identify with others, putting ourselves in their place. He challenges us to understand and strive to restore them. Right judgment has a disarming humility to it (“Trust me, I had a lot bigger log in my eye than you do, brother!”), making us instruments of grace and helping others to grow. Wrong judgment has the opposite effect: it puts them on the defensive, obscuring God’s grace and causing them to avoid growth.
Some time after the incident with the publisher Richard, I began pausing while praying the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-14) when I got to the words “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Debtors (or “trespassers”) are those who have sinned against us, who’ve judged us, or who we perceive as having done so. Each time I got to this point, I would forgive Richard specifically. Soon, I began to pray for his well-being and his family’s. My feelings were mixed, but on some level, at least, I meant it. Initially, I had no expectation of reconciliation, but in time I began to hope that maybe… And then one day, prompted by God, I called Richard and asked him to meet me for coffee.
We beat around the bush for the first two hours. Then I finally confronted him, telling him that I felt judged (I avoided making “you” statements, but boy did I think them!). I told him that the wounds were still there. After some FAQs, he admitted he barely remembered using those words “lazy,” “dishonest,” and “deluded.” And then, to my astonishment, he admitted that he’d lashed out at me because he felt judged by me! I’d taken him for granted, he said, written him off as being motivated purely “by money” when, in fact, his motive in doing the project had been his love for me as a friend.
“I had no idea,” I said. (I really hadn’t.)
“I know,” he replied. “I don’t think I realized it myself until just now.”
I asked his forgiveness, anyway. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t made his feelings clear previously. It mattered that he needed healing, just like I did. And then he asked my forgiveness in return. It wasn’t movie-cute. We didn’t cry or hug. But something was different. Something had changed.
Somehow we were friends again.
“Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ himself” (Ephesians 4:15). Love is the balm that restores. We need to check our hearts—or better yet, let God check them for us—before we can exercise right judgment. So, if you can’t identify with your persecutor, don’t approach him (or her). But if and when you’re ready to go to him in a spirit of humility…
Don’t you dare hold back!