As a way to get better at this, I'm learning about, and practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a discipline from the Buddhist faith. Now, I'm obviously not a Buddhist, but being mindful - being present in the moment with the people in your life - is a valuable practice. It helps me to listen better and gain insight into another person. It helps me to value them for where they're at, while still maintaining my own integrity and values.
It's also extremely difficult because of the "inner thoughts" that tend to creep into my mind. I'm learning how to come into a conversation or situation with no agenda of my own, and to suspend judgement. In this way Christ's presence can come in without "me" getting into the way.
The story of how I arrived here would take too long to explain, so I'll spare you and just tell you that it's hard.
I mean super, super hard for me! It's also mentally exhausting because I can be so judgmental in my thought life. This scripture keeps coming into my mind:
"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Matthew 7:1-2
Personally, I find that to be a terrifying scripture.
As an example, the other day I was flocked by a neighbor. I arrived home to this...
I must tell you that I ADORE flamingos, so this filled me with joy. I'm emotionally attached to them because I used to collect them in various forms when I was a teenager, but I gave them away when I learned that some people think they're tacky.
It also made me happy because this project was something I wanted to be a part of and I'd seen the flocks in other yards in my town. A local group is raising money for beach wheelchairs, so they put flamingos in your yard and then you pay a "removal" fee (donation). You can send the flock somewhere else for a price, so my next-door neighbor, knowing that I loved the project and his flamingos, sent them to my yard.
Shortly after it happened, another neighbor saw it and got upset with me. At first I thought he was joking, but I quickly realized he wasn't, and my inner "judge" kicked in. This judge was saying things like, Seriously dude? Lighten up, it's fun and it's for wheelchairs for handicapped people for God's sake! And other things...
But despite my assurances that they'd be gone within 24 hours and the explanation of why they were there, he was unmoved. Then, I explained that our other neighbor sent them over and he got even more upset because he'd specifically told that gentleman to get them out of the neighborhood.
Here's the funny thing: My upset neighbor looks a little like this old biker....
And yet, he lives in a house like this.....
Except it's even more gorgeous and immaculate, and filled with flowers...so I guess I should have known?
So it's not my place to judge him as an HOA rules following un-fun jerk because he's not. (Even though he did casually threaten to "off" the flamingos in my yard in the middle of the night.)
No, he's not a jerk, he's a generally nice guy who was the first person on the scene of my son's accident. He even called me the next day to see how he was, so who am I to judge his simmering flamingo reaction? Maybe he thinks they're tacky?
Maybe he thinks I'm tacky.
See? This is why mindfulness is exhausting to me.
At any rate, the Lord's using things like this to show me my own problems with judgmental attitudes. There's a distinction in the Bible between right judging and making assumptions about people and their thoughts. When we get right down to it, only Jesus knows what's truly in a person's heart, so that's why I'm trying to take my thoughts captive and be mindful of them.
"Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, "Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?" Matt 9:4
My challenge to you this week is to pay attention to what you think, feel and say to others out loud and in your head.
And be yourself.
Because no matter what my neighbor thinks, I still love flamingos. I have one of my own secretly stashed in the bushes in my backyard and this only served to remind me that flamingos belong in flocks. He'll soon be getting some friends.
Just call me tacky.