When most parents teach their kids to drive, they focus on the rules of the road; for instance, how to stop without giving every passenger whiplash, or that yellow lights mean you need to slow down, and it’s not the time to test your Fast and Furious 6 skills.
But my dad has never been conventional, and he chose to teach me compassion while driving. When I would get angry that a car was driving 10mph under the speed limit and I couldn’t pass them, my dad told me not to jump to conclusions. He would share the story of a friend of his, a man who’s wife was dying of cancer and as he drove her to the hospital he had to drive slowly as every bump he crossed caused her excruciating pain. Looking at the car in front of me I would feel terrible. Well, for about five minutes until I thought, “that’s probably not the case with that car, they probably are just on their phone, and now I’m going to be late and it’s all their fault.” As you can tell, 15-year-old me was very judgmental, less than compassionate, and incredibly stubborn.
Well 20-year-old me isn’t much better.
It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in my own world, problems, and self. It’s easy for me to choose not to see the importance of compassion. It’s easy for me to judge. That is, until I became the person in the car.
Two days after I returned home from my second stay in the hospital, my mom took me to our hairdresser so I could learn how to style my hair in a way that wouldn’t scare small children. As we were driving back home, we approached a yellow light, and my mom–knowing that riding in the car was difficult for me as it caused nausea, and that the strain on my unfortunately still stiff neck was painful–slowed down even though she and the car behind her could have easily made it. The car behind us, realizing this, proceeded to blare their horn, yell out of their windows, and flip us off.
In that moment, I became the person my dad was talking about all of those times. I felt what a lack of compassion can do to a person when all they need is compassion and understanding. I knew they had no idea I was recovering from major surgery; I also knew they thought my mom, “needed to get off your d*** phone and f***ing pay attention to the f***ing road.” My mom brushed it off, but I was devastated. She had spent the last three weeks bending over backwards to take care of me, she didn’t deserve this, and these people had no idea how astonishingly wrong they were. But what was more troubling, was that I knew, to an extent, I had been that person.
How many times had I been rude and judgmental to someone who was struggling with more than I would ever know? How many times had I really cared? How many times had I given a complete stranger the benefit of the doubt and just shown love and compassion? The answer? Probably not often, and definitely not frequently enough.
Passing judgement is the act of withholding compassion, and showing compassion is the effect of withholding judgement.
God rewards us for showing compassion; Matthew 5:8 ESV, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” When we show others love and compassion and our heart is pure of judgement, we are then shown the beauty of God in our surroundings and in others. However, He also condemns us for passing judgement, Romans 2:1 and 5 ESV, “For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge practice the very same things…because of your hard and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.”
I challenge you to chose compassion over judgement. It takes work, and it is a constant battle of choices, but the reward of choosing compassion will be seen daily and eternally.
In her book, Buzz, Katherine Ellison details her life as a mother of a child with ADHD and the year she took to watch her son closely in order to show compassion and love more effectively. She expresses, “the only way to break this chain [of judgment being the first reaction we have toward others] is to keep in mind William James’s idea that what you pay attention to becomes your reality and, whenever possible, to keep my focus fixed on the best part of people’s natures.”
Ellison is essentially reiterating what Paul tells us to do in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We destroy argument and every lofty (judgmental) opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Taking these thoughts captive and focusing on the best part of people’s natures allows us to look at the car in front of us that is driving unnervingly fast or slow and replace judgement with compassion. It allows us to let the disgruntled, rude person with one item go in front of us at the grocery store–even though we’ve been waiting forever–because we can acknowledge they might need some compassion in that moment. Christ calls us to love others (John 15:12), to show them compassion–not to judge them.
Next time you’re in a similar situation of showing judgement rather than compassion, take that thought captive, make a choice, show some love.
Because one day, you’ll need that love and compassion too. Trust me.