Home is a sacred place to me. When I get home I like to sit down, read or watch television, and ignore everything outside of my door. So I guess one could suppose that I’m not the most friendly neighbor. I’ll say “hello” to someone if I see them. But I don’t go out of my way to get to know my neighbors. I’m not that much like Jesus.
Lately, I’ve been challenged to get to know my neighbors more. It could be because a few weeks back, one of my neighbors invited me to her church and I had to sheepishly look at her and reply, “Thank you so much! But I’m a pastor at another church so I don’t get many weekends off.” She looked a little astonished. I realized at that moment that either A.) I didn’t look like Jesus in the slightest bit or B.) I didn’t talk to anyone that lived around me. In fact, that was the first time I learned her name…and I had been living here for a little over a year.
One of my neighbors invited me to her church and I had to sheepishly look at her and reply, “Thank you so much! But I’m a pastor at another church so I don’t get many weekends off.” She looked a little astonished.
Every morning, I am awakened by the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet in the apartment next to me. Only it doesn’t sound like pitter-patter. It sounds like a stampede of elephants have been frightened by several gunshots. This usually happens around 5:45 in the morning and then it will happen around 6-7 at night. I am less than thrilled. I would think to myself, “Goodness…get your kids under control. Teach them the proper way to live in an apartment. I don’t have kids so I shouldn’t have to suffer the early mornings of parenting.” Throughout the rest of the day, I’ll hear them scream or cry and sometimes I’ll even loudly say, “Shut up!” in my own apartment…loud enough that they might hear…but not loud enough that I know that they hear.
This has gone on for over a year. It’s a single mother with three kids. I judged her situation. I figured it was another statistic of a single, African-American woman raising three kids because the dad was out of the picture. It hurts me to write that because I don’t consider myself a racist. But looking at that statement, I see the lens with which I viewed the world was tinted with something other than Christ.
I justified my thought because every morning they scream and run. There’s not enough coffee in the world to get me in a good enough mood to deal with that.
Something happened today, however. I was outside trying to clear away my potted plants because I knew the unforgiving winter was upon us. I hear a quiet, “Hello?” I turn around and I see my neighbor standing there. I put on my smile that says, “Oh gosh…please don’t ask me to do anything difficult.” She says, “My mother-in-law saw a dresser on the side of the dumpster that she was wanting. Would you be willing to help her move it? She told me to ask you and I didn’t really want to, but would you be willing to help?” At this moment a thousand thoughts race through my mind:
“I just had an epidural a few weeks ago to help my back because of issues I’ve been having.”
“This probably isn’t the best thing for me to do today.”
“How long is this going to take?”
“You’re going to owe me a pound or two of coffee if I do this…”
But I pushed those thoughts aside and said, “Sure, no problem.” As I go inside to put on my shoes, I begin wondering, “Mother-in-law? Where’s the husband then? Divorce?” I walk around to the dumpster and look at the dresser. It looks heavy. “Great,” I thought. “Guess I’ll be back to the doctor soon.”
We load up the dresser and the mother-in-law is telling me how excited she is because she has 6 grandchildren and this will provide the perfect piece to store all of their toys for when they come over. I smile and agree. I ask her if she has someone to help her unload it and she says she does and that if that person won’t, she’ll just call her son to come help. “The son who is the father of those three children?” I wonder. Through a longer conversation she then says something that catches me off-guard, “Since my other son, her husband, died a while back…” I immediately stopped listening because all of a sudden I realized what a horrible person I had been…which not listening made me an even more horrible person but this was a baby step for me…one thing at a time. I had judged the pitter-patter of little feet.
The lens with which I had viewed the world was tinted with something other than Christ.
I had to fight off tears from the realization that I had been terrible in my judgment. The sound of the pitter-patter of feet isn’t the sound of children running wild. It is the sound of children trying to find their father. The screaming isn’t spoiled children whining because they’re not getting their way. It is the sound of questioning and sorrow. The sound of their crying when their mother leaves for work isn’t the sound of children missing their mom. It’s the sound of children worrying that she, like their father, might not come back.
People need more grace than we are willing to give. Judgment is much easier for us than giving the grace of God. We probably don’t give grace because we don’t know the person and their story. That, at least, was true for me. Or maybe we don’t give grace because we have a hard time accepting grace for our own lives. Whatever the case, less judging and more grace is a good prescription for how we should live.
I guess I’ve misjudged many a person. I guess that puts me one step further away from being like Christ. I should extend more grace. Lord knows I need more grace. But I’ll probably judge people again. I’ll try not to, but I know I will. But here is what I also know: I will never again judge the sound of the pitter-patter of little feet.