Thursday, August 11, 2005

Getting out of the way

When is it ever right to tell another person what to do?

I suppose if they’re your kids and you’re responsible for them, or your subordinates at work and you have to assign them things. Or if you’re a member of the police force, the armed forces, or a firefighter, and you have to ensure people’s safety. But I can’t think of that many other circumstances where I have the right to demand behavior from another free-thinking adult, even if they’ve explicitly asked me what I think.

This relates to a crusade I’m on within myself—to banish the word “should” from my vocabulary. He should do this, she should do that. Even having that opinion is a way of being critical, and whenever I catch myself using the word I know I’m imposing my own opinion on someone else. To me, this is blameworthy, because the only way I can have that opinion in the first place is if I violate one of Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: Judge not. For, how would I know what the other person should do, unless I’d evaluated them in some way and found them wanting?

On the other hand, I would throw myself in front of a train to keep someone I care about from having to learn things the hard way, the way I did. The suffering my mistakes caused me has given me some experience in the ways of evil, and how to avoid suffering by avoiding sin. But I also know I wasn’t listening to anyone else when I made those mistakes, and well-intentioned counsel from friends and family just made me resist their advice because I felt judged. I felt no one understood me, so how could they know what was best for me? And I stumbled along my own path alone.

The turning point came when I’d suffered enough that I actually did ask someone to judge me, and to tell me what to do. I was living out in LA and turning my life around. Part of that turning was being active in a local church. I even taught Sunday School there. Hanging around with all these genuinely Christian people had an effect, and I began to question some elements of my own lifestyle. Was I living right? Did I deserve to be a member of this church, let alone influencing young minds in Sunday School? Eventually, this worried me enough that I went to the Sunday School superintendent, and asked her.

We met there in the Sunday School, at a little round table near the window. I poured out my heart to this sweet Christian woman, and, I’m afraid, in my eagerness to paint an accurate picture, I was fairly graphic in detail about what I’d been up to. Not the highest example of clean living to sully her ears that morning. In anguish I asked her, “What should I do? Should I keep teaching?”

I’ll never forget her response. With gentle tears of compassion in her eyes, she put her hand on my forearm on the table, and said, “God will guide you.”

I can still feel my jaw dropping and my eyes filling with tears of my own. That simple statement of faith in me, that I had my own connection with God that would answer my questions, set me on a new path of spiritual exploration. I left that meeting with a new direction, and did indeed find my answers. I did keep teaching, but I also began to live up to my own standards of what that meant. And eventually, clean living became a way of life.

Now, when someone tells me something they’re doing that I wouldn’t do, I try not to react. I try to recognize that just because I wouldn’t do it at this point on my spiritual path, this doesn’t mean they don’t need to learn from it in their own time. Each person’s path is individual to them. If I did state my opinion, they might feel judged, and then I’ve just cut myself off from being able to help them later if they need it.

So instead I remember the example of that dear lady in LA. I express my confidence that God is guiding them and that they can listen for God’s direction. And, if they ask me to pray for them, I pray along those lines, opening thought to God’s direction rather than my limited point of view. Where they’re led often surprises me, but it works for them.

Judge not. No “should.” To me, it’s about not standing in the middle of the road on someone else’s path, but getting out of the way so they can see more clearly what’s ahead.


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2 Comments:

At 8/12/2005 11:01:00 AM, Blogger John said...

That was really well put, Laura! I'm with you. I think everyone has the right to make their own mistakes. If they want to know what I think, they'll ask. Otherwise, I try to stay out of the advice business. Assuring someone of their ability to hear God's guidance is so wonderful! I'm going to start doing that, too.

When I was growing up in the Methodist church, one summer at Bible School, we were given "name verses." I don't know how they were decided upon, but mine was "Judge not that ye be not judged". That verse has been especially powerful for me ever since.

It is so presumptuous for us to think we know what's best for another person!

One way that I try to hear Him speak is just to ask God to speak to me and then sit in silence waiting for Him. I don't actually hear a voice, but sometimes an inspired thought comes to me; and if it doesn't I just try to know that God has spoken and His answer will come to me at the right time.

I love the 23rd psalm and Mary Baker Eddy has such a lovely spiritual interpretation of it in her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She interprets is this way: "Divine Love is my shepherd. I shall not want. Love makes me lie down in green pastures. Love leads me beside the still waters. Love restoreth my soul (my spiritual sense)," etc.

When I pray that psalm, as I often do, I find that I have such a lovely sense of God's love for me that I know that He is guiding me wonderfully, and that He will guide each one of us when we open to Him. What I might tell someone, might be useful; what He would tell someone is priceless!

 
At 8/14/2005 11:59:00 AM, Blogger Laura said...

thank you John! Great thoughts!

 

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