While standing in the growing line at Starbucks, I peek over my shoulder and see her slowly push the shopping cart back and forth, her toddler son perched up front. She grabs his plump hands and gives him a canyon-wide smile. The little one is content as a canary to just look at his mama, and he returns her smile with one of his own.
Oh, those pumpkin-toothed smiles, the ones that laugh and gurgle with abandon and make the years spent buried under laundry, legos, and leftover PB&J completely worth it.
I want this mama to know she’s seen by more than those eyes of chocolate pools in the grocery cart. So I tell the barista I’ll pay for her drink too, and I successfully do so before breezing out the door with my pumpkin spice chai, the young mom completely unaware.
On the way home, I entertain an absurd option. I could have picked up the extra beverage myself, walked over and thrown the hot drink all over the unsuspecting mom. I could have just watched the scalding liquid drizzle down her face, neck, maybe even her baby.
Of course, that’s ridiculous. Unthinkable. Who would do that?
A lot of people, actually.
Maybe not with coffee, but a lot of people do exactly that with their words. I do exactly that every time I prioritize me and my big opinion over listening. Every time I refuse to take the time necessary to understand another’s viewpoint, choosing instead to judge and criticize.
We all want to be seen in our own way, in a please let my words hold value kind of way. The thing is: The way we choose to fill that need isn’t always good or helpful.
I’m not one to share my “hot topic” opinions freely on the internet because it’s impossible for the general public – those who have no relationship with me – to accurately know what I think and feel from reading a few sentences. I share my opinions with those who know me in real life – who know all of me. I share within the safe and secure context of relationship to people who get me, even if they don’t agree with me.
By the same token, I’m not one to publicly weigh in on the “blog post scandal of the week.” Because in the end, any argument I make would be earthquake shaky. Without the context of relationship – without knowing all of the author – I will color what she says and how she says it through the filter of my circumstances and experiences, not hers. This likely puts me light years away from the true intent of her words.
Perhaps this is just one reason God cautions us against judgmental criticism and encourages us to talk over disagreements first privately with the parties involved and always directly with Him. It’s best to first wise up in Him instead of weighing in with each other, to get a dose of His Word so we don’t douse others with harmful words.
You may not be buried under legos and laundry, but this world will do it’s best to bury you under something. Regret. Guilt. Shame. Fear. All of the above. We are to help ease one another’s burdens, not add to them. Misplaced opinions scald more than hot coffee ever could, burning the one in the line of fire as well as her sons and daughters and family who surely feel the weight of what she carries.
Of course healthy criticism and debate has its place. But holding our opinions close does, too. Because when we hold them close, we give grace. So the next time we go looking for ways to be seen and validated through words, let’s make sure the ways we choose glorify God and show grace to people.
Heaven knows I need it.
So I need to give it, too.