Some time ago, I dropped by a neighbor's house unannounced. The overwhelmed mother answered the door in mismatched clothes, greasy hair, and with sizable bags beneath her eyes. In the foyer, I could see her disheveled children and dirty house.
My first though was: She looks dead.
That thought was followed by a stream of judgements that I'm embarrassed to admit.
Gratefully, the Spirit stopped me. I heard the words in my mind: I didn't show you this so that you would judge her. I showed you this so you could help her.
I returned home, thinking about my neighbor. As I silenced my unkind thoughts, I felt the Spirit return to my presence, and with it, a prompting, an idea of exactly what this mother needed and how I could provide it.
Of the billions of people on the Earth, we cross paths with so few of them each day. And of the ones we see, even fewer are people who we look in the eye or speak face-to-face or soul-to-soul. This was one of those times. When we meet with someone else and in the brief interaction, witness their weaknesses or their needs, I can't help but think that the experience is due to the Lord and His impressive timeline. After all, the Lord knows full well the trials that each of us face. He knows how close we are to the breaking point, and He knows how we plead for help. He also knows who to send as His messenger when the time comes.
But I fear that too often the Lord has placed us in position to greatly improve the life of a neighbor and we let Satan intervene. Satan, the great counterfeiter, twists would-be sacred events like this to use in his mission to spread misery throughout the world. Rather than using those opportunities to connect and show compassion, perhaps answer the prayers of a stranger or friend, Satan tempts us to judge, often first reminding us of our own weaknesses.
In situations like this, I think of the quote by President Monson, "May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong."
Unfair judgement is almost always easier than the alternative. If we judge, we don't have to leave the confines of our comfort zone. We don't have to think about what they need, how we can help, or how to get the courage to offer it. And when we judge, it certainly makes our own weaknesses more bearable-- at least artificially. Let's be honest. I'd much rather think about your shortcomings than mine, even though I have plenty to choose from.
The next time you see someone who is acting in a way you determine is inadequate and begin to judge, may I suggest a few things to try.
1: Determine if you were placed there for a reason.
What are the chances that we would cross another's path to be a witness to a way they're falling short? The Lord took great care in placing each star in heavens exactly where it needed to shine. The light from only one has guided and inspired travelers and scholars for centuries. It's not so much to also believe that He has orchestrated our days with enough detail that we can bless the lives of as many of His children as possible. Is that the reason I was standing on my neighbor's porch? Is that why you're behind the rumpled family in the checkout? Does that explain why you overhear a grumpy complaint? Maybe the notice you take of another person is because the Lord placed you there with a purpose.
2: Identify what is really happening - not the result of what has happened.
My neighbor had a dirty house and an unkempt presence. But that's not what was happening in her life. Discouragement, disease, and any manner of distress can all cause behaviors with which we are uncomfortable and decide are "inappropriate." While we may be whispering behind a cupped hand, "For crying out loud, brush your kid's hair," the Lord is speaking to our soul, "This woman needs a friend, and you have the words I want her to hear." We cannot speak and listen at the same time, so we have to learn to silence our mind.
Thoughts like: "these kids are so vulgar, this man is so difficult, this family is so needy" are all judgements. We cannot know what we're intended to share unless we truly know what we're seeing. I cannot solve someone's vulgarity, difficulty, neediness, or more. But I can soften the load of self-doubt, give grace when there is grief, and uplift when someone is worn down.
3: Ask the Lord what He wants you to do - then do it.
When we have determined that the Lord has placed us where we stand for a reason, and we understand the root of what we're seeing, then comes the humble and sincere prayer of how to act as His hands. The answer will come. Listen for it. And when it comes, act. In the October 2015 General Conference, President Henry B. Eyring taught, "When you demonstrate your willingness to obey, the Spirit will send you more impressions of what God would have you do for Him. As you obey, the impressions from the Spirit will come more frequently, becoming closer and closer to constant companionship. Your power to choose the right will increase."
This is how prayers are answered, how souls are saved. This is how the gospel is shared. This is how we change the world and prepare our souls to help the next person who comes along as well.
And to those on the other end, the ones being judged unfairly, most often by yourself, I offer the loving counsel from Elder Holland, "“Be peaceful. Believe in God and yourself. You are doing better than you think you are."