Judgment and Discernment
Jesus advises us to avoid judging. Signing on to the judging way of life is not going to go in your favor, he tells us. In the opening to Matthew 7, The Message translates it like this:
Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.
The advice to not judge resonated with me, but then I also heard messages that said we can’t get by without judgment. How would we choose vanilla or chocolate? How would we decide what job to look for? How would we know who to trust? How would we keep from doing evil?!
Knowing right from wrong is vital, isn’t it?
I’ve been told that discernment is just judgment that’s well thought out, and correct. But as I’ve struggled to understand what it would mean to live free of judgment, I’ve found I see discernment differently.
Judgment is focused outside me. It’s me saying what’s wrong and right, good and bad out in the world. It’s almost like I’m declaring what I believe to be the heart of the world.
On the other hand, discernment is about knowing my own heart. I call it discernment when I’m figuring out what I value, what I love, what I choose.
Distinguishing discernment from judgment
When I’m discerning (as I use the word) I have an open, loving heart, never anger or sneering or exasperation. While discernment may lead me to avoid someone who is dangerous, for example, it won’t lead me to hate them. While it may lead me to question their ideas, it won’t lead me to make fun of them.
What seems to work for me is thinking of discernment as something that applies to *me* and my choices. I can check in with myself and see if a particular action is something I want to do, or not. (And that can be a lot of work, sometimes.)
If it’s about something that I’ve already done, or something that someone else is going to do (and isn’t asking my help in deciding), then it seems like judgment to me, and I prefer to leave that to God.
There’s nothing wrong with you.
This is something that I’ve gotten a bit of flack for saying. So I’m going to flesh it out a little.
When I let go of judgment, I let go of labeling things in the world as “wrong” or as out of alignment with the heart of reality, with the heart of God. When I consider something, I can find it out of alignment with the heart of me, of course. That’s how I know whether it’s what I want. But out alignment with God or reality, that just doesn’t make any sense to me. And it doesn’t have to. I get to leave that stuff to God.
And do the best I can, in each moment, to pay attention and follow love. Doing the best I can. Just like you, and everybody else.
Posted by Angela under feature
Friday, June 4, 2010