It was one of my grown children who helped me see the error of my ways. Launching into a story about someone I'll call 'Millie'... relating a tale I'd been told by a friend who'd heard from a co-worker who knew for sure because someone had said ... I was stopped mid-sentence. "Mom," said my son (kindly), "before you say any more, just know that whatever you tell me will make a difference in what I think about Millie from now on."
Feeling chagrined, I fell silent. I was stung by the truth of these words. I could pass along my little bit of gossip, feeling only slightly guilty about doing so, and I would most likely forget it (as it is, I don't remember it now). But every time my son saw or spoke with 'Millie,' he would carry with him an impression left in the wake of my careless action. Even though I cannot, today, recall what I was starting to say, I know it was not something positive.
Oh, I might have tried to be 'nice.' I probably intended to mention that Millie had a few good qualities, bless her heart. But was there a good reason to casually mention her actions to my son? No. I had no reason to share whatever-it-was.
This happened several years ago, and will I sound dramatic when I say it was life changing? Probably. But it was.
Somehow my son's wise perspective had entirely escaped my notice before this time. I'd more or less taken it for granted that if all the Millies of this world never heard the negatives people said about them, they couldn't be hurt. Could they?
I immediately started noticing how my own opinions of people are formed by what others say. And by body language: smirks and headshakes and rolled eyeballs. Then I realized that while I cannot alter what others say about someone, I can definitely choose what I do or do not share, and with whom.
I can begin by checking my motives when I'm tempted in this area. Do I like to seem 'in the know?' Am I concerned that befriending someone others look down on will make me less appealing to those others? Do I want to be in the loop of shared laughter? Am I afraid a friend might like Millie more than she likes me, and thus I want to cast a shadow on Millie's character? Am I feeling jealous? Threatened? Angry? Inferior? Afraid?
Do I often find fault with others over inconsequential things? If so, can I prayerfully get to the root of why this might be the case?
I have a great many planks in my own eyes (Matthew 7:3). Now that I've begun in earnest to let God deal with these, my vision is growing clearer. I can focus on Our Lord, and see more clearly what He wants to change in me.
And one thing I know for sure. It is time to let go of Millie's splinters.
'We make ourselves judges of the minds of our fellow creatures, which are for God alone to judge.' (St. Catherine of Siena)
'Do not judge, and you will not be judged.' (Luke 6:37)
Painting: Mehclers, The Sermon, 1886; cropped
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