I recently talked with my children about grace. Having grace for others and trying to understand their situation. So often it’s easy to look briefly into someone else’s life or at their actions and make quick judgements. We say or even just think that we know what they should do. We know how they could solve their problems. As we talked, I told my children when you find yourself tempted to judge to ask three questions.
Do you know their back story?
Do you know their current situation?
Are you able and willing to help?
Everyone has back story. Every situation has backstory. It not just the why, but usually the underlying big why behind what we do, how we feel, how we react and so many of the choices we make. Where did you grow up? What was your family like? What are your hopes and dreams, your disappointments, your betrayals, hurts and wounds? These form your backstory. The backstory of our lives affects how we perceive the world around us and how we interact with those in our lives.
Current situation. What’s going on in their life? Right now, today, this week, or even this year. What is their home like? Are they struggling in their marriage, finances or at work? Why are they doing what they are doing? Not the big, deep why like back story. This is more akin to temperature. Current story tells you what their day-to-day life looks like. Their capacity, margin. This matters.
Finally, are you in their life? Are you willing and able to help? You think you have an answer to their problem, but are you willing to get involved in the solution? It is easy to say you know what someone should do. . .it’s a lot harder to get involved and help. Getting into someone’s life is messy, time-consuming and complicated.
Ten years ago, we lost our daughter, Hannah. She was three, sweet, beautiful and then gone. We were devastated. I remember walking through the grocery store, numb. My baby was gone, my world was shaken, but I still had two little boys at home. They needed me to function, but I was having a hard time breathing. I remember being in that grocery store and thinking that all these people were so near me and yet had absolutely no idea that my heart was broken. I looked normal but was far from it. It hit me that there had to be others. Other people in crisis walking around, seemingly functional, but devastated inside.
It shifted the way that I perceive people all around me. She might have lost her child too. He might have lost his wife. She might be struggling with chronic pain. He might have just lost his job… house, car, dog. She might have a new baby and be sleep deprived. There might be abuse at home. You just don’t know. Give people grace. Strangers, friends and family. You don’t walk in their shoes or live their lives. Don’t pretend you know what’s best for them or that you know everything about their problems and how to solve them.
And when people judge you, and they will, this still applies. Do you know their back story and situation? Are you willing to lovingly confront them, get into their life and help them learn how they hurt you with their judgements?
I think before we speak or even mentally pass judgement about someone else’s life or failures we should take a moment to assess. Do I know their stories, both past and present? Am I willing to take the time to help? If you cannot answer yes to these, then do you really have the right to speak up, or even judge them in your heart? Or do you need to just give them grace. Work on your own issues, perhaps offer to help, and give people grace, especially when they’re struggling, give them grace.