Lent allows us the opportunity to engage in an honest self-appraisal. We are afforded in Lent, both in time and space (through worship) to check in as it were with how we are doing in our quest to follow Jesus. Because we are assured of the love and embrace of a God who is just and fair and who is prepared to atone for us, we can be completely honest with ourselves as we weigh our actions against our words. We often are very good at declaring who we would like to be, but marrying our actions to our vision of ourselves is not always so easy. Sometimes even good hearted people with great intentions and aspirations to love can come off as judgemental.
In today’s reflection from Bread for the Journey Henri Nouwen, reflects on living a non-judgemental life. Now I am certain that we would all be quick to say that we strive to be a people who do not judge. What we are often less willing to name is the prejudices that we have all loved with at some point or another. Nouwen writes:
One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices. Sometimes we aren’t even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different from us in colour, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle as equals, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there.
Strangers, people different than we are, stir up fear, discomfort, suspicion, and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being “other.” Only when we fully claim that God loves us in an unconditional way and look at “those other persons” as equally loved can we begin to discover that the great variety in being human is an expression of the immense richness of God’s heart. Then the need to prejudge people can gradually disappear.
Nouwen rightly points out that the real litmus test comes when we are placed in concrete situations with others. We sometimes find ourselves surprised with the reaction elicited from within ourselves when confronted with those different than we are. Becoming non-judgmental requires enough awareness to know when these feelings arise and being willing to acknowledge that they are born out of fear or insecurity. We are so accustomed to love being a conditional exercise that it is difficult for us to accept that God’s loves us in an unconditional way. Once we are able to see that love which God offers to ‘those other persons’ as much as to us, we can overcome our own prejudices. It’s also true that many of our prejudices are learned and observed. We need not be afraid to honestly name those things which we have learned from a young age. We don’t begin this life with judgement in our hearts. Nelson Mandela summed it up well ….
It’s true that we have all learned to be insecure around ‘other people.’ It’s also true that we most certainly can learn to choose love over judgement and prejudice.
One thing is for certain – we will never overcome our prejudices if we are too proud to ever acknowledge them. We cannot help but be judgemental if we are overly convinced that could never be judgemental. The good news remains that God loves us ‘in such a wonderfully unconditional way’ and invites us to offer an honest appraisal of who we are today, so that we may more fully live as God’s child tomorrow.