Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.Matthew 5:7
Taking a small step backward, today. I skipped this one earlier, because it didn’t immediately occur to me how this verse pertains to my BLE journey. But it should have.
A Regrettable Occurrence
When I was in grade 7, I looked at a girl in my class. Really looked at her. I’m not a very observant person, so this was unusual, for me. But something made me look at her, and as I did, I realized that she was a little chubby. Fatter than me, certainly. At this point, I was still pretty thin.
And as I made this assessment, I thought: If I looked like that, I would just eat less.
Those words have haunted me ever since.
Assumptions Made, and Habits Formed
I assumed this girl was responsible for her size. That the way she looked was directly related to the choices she made. She must eat too much. She must eat unhealthy things. She must not get any exercise. Because if she wanted to change, she could. This is what I had been taught, and it made sense. I was also beginning to hear that people weren’t responsible for their own eating habits – that it was all McDonald’s fault. But I didn’t buy that. No one was forcing people to eat fast food. I was all for personal responsibility. And if we were responsible for our actions, then it followed logically that we were responsible for the results.
I assumed she was unaware of her own appearance. Because if she knew she was overweight, why wouldn’t she fix it? How could she walk around happy and unconcerned – and even, in my opinion, with a bit of a superior attitude? She must lack of self-awareness – which made me doubt her overall intelligence.
I assumed she had no self control. This, in my mind, was the worst offence. She must be overindulgent. She let herself eat things that were bad for her, and too much of them. I imagined she went home after school, stuffed herself with sweets, and spent the afternoon lazily lying on her couch. How else did a person end up looking the way she did?
I believed that she deserved it.
Judgement Without Mercy
I was only a child. But in my childish, rudimentary way, I was forming opinions that would stick with me. They combined what I was learning in school, and from the world around me, about the relationship between diet, activity, and body weight, with some simple logic. My brain was learning a shortcut. When I saw a person of this girl’s shape, in the future, I would be able to make a quick assessment of them, instead of wondering what made them the way they were.
It took a long time to erase this mental shortcut. And because it was so ingrained in me – even as an overweight, and eventually obese person – I know that this is exactly how I was (and perhaps still am) viewed by those around me.
Most people won’t say it out loud in polite company. But they might among family & friends. And they’re definitely thinking it in their heads. You’ll find a few very honest, outspoken people, who’ll talk about it openly.
People are overweight because they choose to be that way. They either don’t know, or don’t care how they look – or how unhealthy they are. They have no self control, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
It hurts. Not deeply, but it does sting, a little. Mostly because there is some truth in it. Just not as much as they think. A lot of these people are very logical thinkers, and they’re not saying these things out of spite, but a genuine belief that obesity is a state that people could drag themselves out of, if they had any gumption, or maybe if they were given a little push. Sometimes I feel like if I could just sit down and talk with them, with the knowledge I now have about food addiction, I could bring some of them around – and that they would actually be happy to be shown a different side of the story. But since I can’t do that with the vast majority of people out there, I have to live with the fact that they are judging me, and others like me, more harshly than I now believe we deserve. And I can’t blame them. I was one of them. Not the saying-it-out-loud type, of course, but the thinking-it-in-my-head kind.
So that little sting I feel when someone voices these opinions, is a just punishment.
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.Matthew 7:1 & 2
I deserve every bit of it.
Judgement: A Case for Caution
I’m a judgemental person. Not always in a bad way. This verse isn’t really forbidding all judgement. There is a proper place for judging between right and wrong.
Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.Matthew 7:15-17
We’re not supposed to be taken in by every charlatan. We’re supposed to compare what people say with what they do, and see if they match up – particularly if they purport to be a teacher or a leader.
But we need to do this very carefully.
Why do you pass judgement on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgement seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.Romans 14:10-12
We will all be judged. We will give an account of ourselves to God – and no one else. No one but him knows my story. And I don’t know anyone else’s. Unless I know someone very well – and maybe not even then – I have no idea what their struggles are. What has made them the way they are. I don’t know if they’re resting comfortably in sin, unconcerned about their behaviour or the consequences, or if they spend every day trying to claw their way out of its tangles.
But it’s very easy to assume the worst. And rather more difficult to catch yourself doing it.
Unlearning Old Habits
It’s taken years. Of catching myself in initial assumptions, giving my head a shake, and rearranging my thoughts. Remembering what I must look like to others. Crazy, isn’t it, that even as an obese person, my brain automatically passed judgement on those in the same condition as me?
It shouldn’t have been so hard. But eventually, it worked. Now, when I see an obese person, I don’t see lazy or indulgent. I see sick.
There may be laziness. There may be self-indulgence. There was certainly some of that contributing to my own addiction. But when it comes to others, I don’t know. I do know that this is a sickness, of the mind as well as the body. And it’s always safest to assume the best we can of others. The exact ratio of sin & sickness isn’t for me to decide.
When I see a sick person, there is no judgement. There is mercy. There is compassion. And that allows me to be a good doctor, as well as avoid heaping up judgement on myself. Because when it comes to my own judgement, I’m certainly hoping there’s a lot of mercy and compassion mixed in there. And judging sick people is not usually helpful. Most of the time, they’re being plenty hard on themselves. In the cases where a little more responsibility is called for, there will be time for that eventually.
I can’t say this about many things; but this is an attitude I’ve come pretty close to mastering – most of the time.
And maybe this is why I had to go through this journey. This long, painful, miserable journey. Maybe this is why, for so long, my prayers that God would free me from this addiction went unanswered. Was it just that I needed to be humbled? To learn mercy?
Did it really take 19 years for me to correct an attitude of judgement learned in childhood?
If so, that was a hard lesson to learn. I can’t help wishing there could have been an easier way. But I’ve always said that my highest desire is to be made more like Jesus. If this is what it takes, so be it.
I just hope the next lesson doesn’t take quite so long.