I like to watch people. If I’m in a room full of strangers, I can’t keep my eyes off them. I like to try to figure people out. I enjoy quietly watching others, listening to what people are saying and forming my own opinions in my mind about what is being discussed. I especially enjoy watching parents interact with their kids since that is my own life right now.
The problem I have with observing people is that I also am quick to make judgments. Recently, I was at a community playroom with a few of our kids and I had several judgments to make about the parents in that room. The mom who entered the room with two young kids was awfully skinny for having two kids. How did she do that? Her daughter looked a bit too old to be sucking on a soother. Oh, and that other mom really needed to give her kid a timeout for speaking to her like that. If only she set some limits, he wouldn’t be a terror like that. Hmm. That blonde mom seemed really worn out and annoyed with her daughter. She should….
On and on go the thoughts and the judgments. What surprises me most is how I can be so quick to judge when I am often in these very same circumstances on a regular basis. My kids don’t always listen and obey. Sometimes I am so worn out I don’t speak nicely to my kids or I ignore their requests. Often, I just don’t have it “together” and I’m left frazzled and impatient.
The other day at the grocery store I made quite a spectacle of myself in the worst way possible. I’m sure many judgments were passed on me. I was alone shopping at the grocery store, but was on a time constraint, so I was rushing to shop and didn’t pack my cart probably. With items spilling out of the cart, a box of cereal in my hand because it didn’t fit in the cart, I made it to the check out and bagged my groceries. At one point the conveyor belt got stuck and squished all my bread, but anyhow, after several attempts, I got all the groceries in the cart. As I was leaving the store, I anticipated the slight incline out the door that might send my green bin flying, so I started going around the front to catch it. Well, I was too late. Several people were approaching the store as the bin tipped out the groceries. I had a few sympathetic people come rushing to my aid to help me put it back in. A man asked if he could help and I accepted. Another woman reached down to grab my carrots. I found this kind of humorous, but I was also a bit embarrassed. I refused to make eye contact with any of them.
But after the initial spill, it got worse. The bin wouldn’t go back on the cart because I was still on this little incline. One of the men stayed behind to make sure I had everything alright. (He happened to be the same man whom on my way out of the store, I happened to pass judgement on what he was purchasing.) I tried to manage on my own by holding the bin in place with my foot as a hobbled down the little hill. Unfortunately, it was snowing and the temperature had recently dropped, causing the asphalt to be rather slippery. Yup, you guessed it. As I hobbled awkwardly, I fell right in front of my cart. Ouch. This man, still watching me, graciously asked if I was okay. I was. Just a bit mortified. So again, I adjusted my stupid green bin and it still wouldn’t stay on the stupid cart. The man once again asked if I had it alright. I said, “I think so.” And he replied, “Hey, where’s your vehicle? Let me just take that for you.”
Sigh. So he accompanied me to my van, graciously making small talk about how slippery those bins get in the cold, etc. We arrived safely to my car and I, my overloaded grocery cart, and my green bin made it unscathed. After he left, I felt so grateful and humbled by these strangers who rushed to my aid and for the man who went out of his way to make sure I was handling things. (If only he had known I usually shopped with 4 kids and this was supposed to be a piece of cake!). I was frazzled and rushed and busy and time-pressured, but here there were strangers to help. In my hastiness and in my moment of distress, I was rescued, and this humbled me greatly.
A while back, Lisa Terkeurst posted this saying on the Proverbs 31 Ministry website and it has stuck with me ever since.
It is funny. I ended up having a conversation with the skinny mom. I helped her out by giving her a tip on how to loosen the grasp of her toddler’s fist as he yanked another kid’s hair. We ended up chatting about how many kids I had and what I did to “survive.” I told her about my church’s Mom to Mom program and she was interested in what church I went to. We talked about how being a mom can be lonely sometimes. She was so lovely. I could imagine us as friends. My first thoughts of her were not really kind. Yet, we connected and encouraged one another.
What Lisa said is true. We are all out there trying to do our best. But our busy, over-scheduled lives leave us frazzled, stressed, depleted and defeated. But instead of judging each other, we should be the ones reaching out to help. Offer a kind word or carry a bin of groceries. Who knows what kind of lasting effect it could have on someone? Maybe, like me, they will feel God’s hand stretched out, waiting for us to grab hold and stand tall once again.