My students invariably end up talking to me about their lives. I hear about the neglectful moms and abusive stepdads and douchebag siblings and dead ( yet still very) beloved grandparents and unfair bitch-ass teachers (just heard that one the other day).
I see the frustration of having to bear burdens that young minds should not have to bear; I hear the wobble in voices tired of being strong enough to not cry. I experience their fear of not being able to reach that golden stair to their dreams–let alone be able to walk up it. I feel the pull of their need for reassurance and perspective and encouragement. They eat up my nods and hmmms and reallys and wells as so much confirmation that they are not as crazy people make them feel. I listen, and they appreciate that. And while I may offer advice or a different perspective, I never judge.
The thing about judgment is that it is black and white, leaving no room for the empathy necessary to help people grow. Even worse, the initial judgment is based solely on your interpretation. You spend your time praising people for meeting your (sometimes skewed) expectations while condemning those who do not–effectively robbing the judged of the opportunity to flourish and the desire to change for the better.
Grace and mercy demand a clearing of the starkness that comes from judgment. When mercy enters the equation, you have to remove the lens of self so that you can see a person for who they are. When grace comes in behind it, you give a person a chance to prosper despite the mistakes and struggles they encounter along the way. When done right, you can help someone get to where they need to go without getting mad because they wanted to take a different direction than what you determine to be the best option. You let them live and love them through it all.
See, I have figured out that you can have high expectations for somebody while not imposing your view of how they reach those high expectations–which is really where judgment comes in. You do not get to choose people’s paths for them–despite what some Christians like to say, not even God imposes His will on you. No, our jobs as good people–as Christians–is to see the expected end, and give people the tools they need to make it there with little nudges along the way.
Grace and mercy mean something more than you giving someone a second chance or unmerited favor. They also mean you let go of what you want in exchange for what another needs. Employing grace and mercy mean giving what is required at the time without expectation. When we can do that, then we meet the requirements of God’s kind of love: free of charge, clear of judgment, and full of peace.