Nearly nothing; except for their exceptionally long shelf-lives. However, if I had to wager which had the longer shelf-life, my money would be on judgment every single time. Without a doubt, the moments in my past that were filled with judgment I can recall vividly; indelible comments, permanent words. Ask me about all those good things people have said to me, those encouraging and affirming words. Err…well…there was that one time…I think… I know historically I’ve been encouraged and affirmed and loved, but those seem sketched in pencil, easily erased, fading swiftly; but those times when I suffered under the hand of judgment (intended or not), they’ve been drawn in to my mind with a Sharpie marker. No wonder we need to hear so many words of encouragement and love.
To drive home this point let me tell you a story from my past. But it’s not about me; well it is, but I’m not the hearer of judgment in this story but the one who speaks it.
A dear friend was dating her boyfriend all throughout college and for a few years beyond. I knew they would soon get married. But, the problem was, I didn’t like him. At all. Never had. She was too good for him. I kept this quiet through college and beyond, but then, as the years marched on and I knew they were going to get married, I felt it my duty to tell her. So I did. I picked up the phone and said these words: I know you are probably going to get married but he’s not good enough for you…yaddah yaddah yaddah... That was the year 2000.
Surprisingly, our friendship never really missed a beat (as best one can being separated by many miles). I was invited to her wedding; she was in mine. We spoke at least 3 times a year and I always called on her birthday.
Then, around 2009, all communication just stopped. Cold. Dead. Nothing. I called on her birthday and left messages (both on her cell and her home phone). No response. She never called back. Never ever. I’m pretty hard to shake as friend, so I kept calling a couple of times every year. Still, I never heard from her.
Then one day (around her birthday) in 2013 I caught her in the car. She answered. I was shocked, she was caught off guard. She couldn’t talk then, but we made a date to talk in a week. The next week we connected. The typical what-have-you-been-up-to-these-past-4-years small-talk was initiated and quickly came to an end. And there was a silence and then she told me she about a massive personal issue she’d been dealing with for the past 4 years involving her husband. My heart broke for her as she shared with me. My mind was aggressively trying to work out why: Why? Why didn’t she come to me? Why am I just hearing about this now…4 years later, 4 years after the fact? We’d been through so much prior to that moment, why stop talking at that point?
There was a pause in her story—a final pause, a pause that asks you to respond. All I could utter was, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry you had to suffer this…I wish I could’ve done something, been there for you.” There was silence on the other end. And then she spoke words that brought tears to my eyes and me to my knees in repentance, “I couldn’t talk to you, Lauren. I couldn’t tell you. Because you told me you didn’t like him and you thought we shouldn’t get married, I couldn’t talk to you. I didn’t want you to think you were right.”
Those careless, thoughtless words in 2000 echoed into the future and slammed the door between me and my friend in her time of need. Everything else that had occurred since then—all the other times I spoke positively and affirmatively—was rubbish compared to those self-righteously spoken words—those words were the louder words, the indelible words, the words written in Sharpie marker, the only words she could recall in the crucible of suffering.
While my knee-jerk reaction (and yours too) is to vow never to utter another judgmental word for the rest of our lives, we know that’s not reality. We’re human, and we’ve many words. Words will be spoken; judgments will be rendered. The good news is: judgment is not the final word. While the effects of judgment are strong and enduring, there is still something bigger and more persistent than judgment: I love you. The miraculous reconciliation that occurred between my friend and me was based in the other, bigger, stronger word of love. Reconciliation is born out of love and love will trump judgment every time. It was love that persisted, it was love that answered, it was love that created a safe environment for brute, honest, vulnerability, and it was love that uttered: please, forgive me.
Judgment has an exceptionally long shelf life; but it’s not forever.
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