I have a confession to make.  Sometimes when I am home alone, I do something that I normally wouldn’t do if my family was around. At times, I even indulge myself in my car when I am riding solo. It’s embarrassing, but I feel it’s time for me to come clean. The secrecy is really weighing me down. Okay, so here it is; when I’m really stressed, and I need to unwind, I crank up the volume on my stereo and I dance. At least that’s what I call it. You might not classify it as dancing if you witnessed it. Just ask my son, who came home unexpectedly one Saturday when I thought I had the house to myself for a few hours. Grasping for some shred of dignity, I tried to explain my foot-stomping, hair-flipping, hip-swaying, arms-in-the-air-like-I-just-don’t-care behavior, and blurted out some lame excuse about how the amped up music and flaying around help me clean better. I had a vacuum hose in hand at the time; they make great make-shift microphones. Still bug-eyed, he mumbled, “uh-huh”, and walked away, shaking his head. Dignity vanquished for the moment, I shrugged my shoulders and returned to my stress-relieving ways.

I bounce around like the Energizer bunny on steroids and lip sync to the best of MercyMe because it helps me relieve stress. My son isn’t the only one who has had the unfortunate experience of being exposed to my silly sanity-saving ways. I can tell from the wide-eyed stares of the drivers at the stop lights next to me, that this form of stress relief is not a cultural norm. Several years ago, I was driving to work one morning, minding my own business and bouncing to the beat, when I caught a glance in my rearview mirror of a woman in the car behind me; she was watching me intently. Later on, at my office, when I entered the waiting area to welcome a new client, I instantly recognized the eyes I saw earlier in my rearview mirror. I felt my cheeks flush and smiling sheepishly, I extended my hand to introduce myself. She did shake my hand, though hesitantly. Nothing more than casual greetings were exchanged and we went into our session. After the 45-minute intake, the woman said as she stood to leave, “I have a confession to make; I saw you in your car this morning, rocking out and I thought, ‘That woman is crazy.’ I was a bit apprehensive when you walked into the waiting room and I realized you were my therapist. I misjudged you. I’m so relieved; you are actually quite normal.”

Well, I was relieved too. Though I still don’t know how “normal” I am, (I thought normal was just a setting on the dryer) I am happy to report that I was able to form a strong client-therapist bond with the woman, and one of her goals was to learn to manage anxiety more effectively. She reported to me that she eventually took up car dancing as a form of stress relief, as well.  

This exchange got me thinking. Why do we judge?  You sound like an idiot; that outfit makes her look fat; you’re a horrible mother; that woman is crazy. Sometimes judgment comes from someone else; sometimes the critical voice you hear is your own. Either way, it’s destructive. I have worked with people in counseling who have been deeply wounded by the criticisms and judgments of others. Usually, when judgment comes at an early age, a person evolves into their own worst critic. If you look up the word judgment in the dictionary, it says something to the effect of making a decision, or forming an opinion based on objectivity, authority, and wisdom. Other references point to judgment as a form of critical opinion. To become an authority on someone or something takes time, and wisdom generally comes from experience. Yet, we often criticize others we barely know, or don’t know at all, and have very little to no experiences with.  When we don’t feel loved, or when we don’t love ourselves, we get insecure and self-protective, and we lash out in judgment.  Judgment increases shame.

I have another confession to make: I used to be judgmental of others. That’s much more embarrassing to me than the closet dancing confession.  Thankfully, over time, because of experiencing the transforming power of God’s love and forgiveness, I have learned to judge less, and love more. Luke 7:47 (NIV), sums up this idea well: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Hope whispers, Don’t Judge. Just Love.

Something I have learned in my years as a therapist, is that everyone has a story. It’s healing for people to tell their stories. Love takes time to listen to someone’s story. When I am tempted to form a critical opinion about someone, I defer to love. In the psychological community, we have another term for it; unconditional positive regard. It means to demonstrate kindness, respect, and understanding regardless of a person’s background, history, influences, culture, ethnicity, race, gender, or choices. Sounds like love to me. There are reasons why people do the things they do. When I take the time to get to know someone, I can usually better understand how they came to arrive at the choices they have made. Love and understanding decrease judgment.  If you are tempted to be judgmental toward someone (including yourself) take the time to listen to their story, and see if your desire to judge decreases. Understanding we are all human beings with the same basic desire is a good start. On the most primitive level, don’t we really all want the same thing…to be loved and accepted for who we are? I know I do, even if I do dance in my car.  

How has judgment affected you? Go ahead…tell your story.