I’d just settled into my comfy chair with my laptop when the middle-aged women sitting nearby wrecked my concentration. Why do the chatty people always sit by me in coffee shops? I tried to tune them out. I really did. After all, I had a column to write, but the woman driving the conversation spoke with such fervor I couldn’t ignore her. I don’t know her name, but I’ll call her Judy.
“She drives me crazy,” Judy said to her companion. “She’s always making derogatory comments about people. As soon as someone walks away, she says something hateful. She acts like she’s always right. What’s that about?”
Clearly she was talking about someone both women knew, and Judy had had it. For the next forty-five minutes, Judy unloaded on the poor lady who had joined her for coffee. I’m not even sure Judy took a breath as she enumerated the evils of this mysterious third party one-by-one.
By the end, I was pretty much convinced Judy’s enemy must have been the anti-Christ because, according to Judy, she was responsible for all the world’s problems, my favorite being that she talked about people behind their backs. Um, Judy, what did you just spend the last hour doing? Hello? Irony? Anybody have some irony out there?
Why is it so easy for us to tick off a list of others’ faults while remaining completely oblivious when doing the exact same thing ourselves? If we’re honest, we’re all experts at playing Judge Judy to the people who come in and out of our lives. Every day is judgment day.
Jesus told this great story about a guy with a plank stuck in his eye, not a good situation to be in. That’s one bad day in the lumber yard. But get this, it just goes from bad to worse, because it’s like the guy doesn’t even have a clue that he has a 2 x 4 sticking out of his head. Mr. Unobservant does, however, see a co-worker with some sawdust in his eye and starts bagging on the poor chump to clean it out.
“Hey, dude, get that sawdust out of your eye. You look ridiculous.”
I wish I could say I’ve never done this, but I am an expert sawdust spotter. My own personal planks, however? Not so much. It feels far better to put others under the moral microscope than to subject myself to it.
We love to vent anger at the driver who cut us off in traffic or shake our heads at the mom who snaps at her kids in the grocery store. Our spouses are selfish. Our bosses are idiots. Everyone else is bad, wrong or dumb. Their specks loom large, a convenient distraction from the shadow of the planks that fall across our own faces.
Jesus was simply saying that we should take our own faults more seriously than anyone else’s. When I’m keenly aware of how selfish I am, I have a lot more empathy, sympathy and grace to extend to others. It’s an attitude that sees others’ faults in light of our own and says, “What? That little speck of sawdust? That’s no big deal. You should have seen the whopper God pulled out of my eye!”
So let me start by clearing the air. Judy, I apologize for judging you. I’m sure you had your reasons. And hey, I’ve been there too.