Do you know what gets under my skin quicker than just about anything? People who make excuses, blaming everyone and everything for their circumstances. We live in a time where transferring responsibilities and mistakes to others is not only accepted, it is rewarded. Countless people expect handouts for everything from race to religion to age to upbringing to circumstances to just about anything we can put a name to.
Is there a relationship in your life where it seems that if just one or two (or three or four) things could change, then the situation would really improve? Sure, you could make a couple adjustments on your end, but let’s be honest, you are really trying. You have a job and school and family and responsibilities and you really are doing the best you can. But that other person…well, they just aren’t trying hard enough.
“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 1:29-2:4)
As I began reading chapter 1:29 I was close to giving a hearty, “Amen!” until I continued on. Suddenly, I was reminded that the audience was not just those around me, but I was standing right in the middle! If we are being honest, most of us have a tendency towards having grace on ourselves when it comes to our shortcomings but without thinking twice pass judgment on others. It’s like the plank and sawdust thing: take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
What sparked this discussion was when I began making a mental list of the things that Stuart could do to improve our marriage (it looks so shallow in black and white). Just like the excuse-making, capable people who demand handouts, I was blaming another person instead of making changes in my own life. Just like the ones who hinge relationship improvement on the actions of another, I decided it was all up to him. After all, I am trying really hard. Never mind all the acts of love he does on a daily basis like working hard, long hours with integrity to provide for our family, helping with AB (diaper changing, bath, dressing, a willingness to get up at all hours of the night, and reading to her all included), helping around the house, prioritizing church, making dinner, etc. Never mind those things. Let me dwell on the couple of areas he can improve.
Enter, Romans 1 and 2.
Look at the list again. Paul names everything from the “big” sins like infidelity to the “small” ones like gossip. Oh, but wait. This list is not ranked. All the junk is recorded together and immediately followed with, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.”
Ugh. I have no excuse.
Instead of standing tall on my soap box today, I am sitting Indian style, face down, looking inward at my heart. Whether it is my spouse, another relationship, circumstances or frustrations with people I barely know, it all comes back to me. What can I do? Why don’t I spend as much energy changing my actions as I do dissecting what others are doing wrong? It’s just so much easier passing the blame!
Enter, my dad.
Growing up he would always tell me that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. This came from a poem by one of his favorite speakers, Charles Swindoll. While unaware at the time, this truth was growing roots in my heart.
Three hours away in the small town of Artesia, New Mexico, Stuart was being taught the same truth. Often as a disciplinary action, he would be required to stand in the hall reciting “The Attitude Poem” over and over until he read the entire piece in a loud and passionate speaking voice. Years later we continue to go back to what our parents taught. It turns out they knew what they were talking about.
What can we learn from Romans 1 and 2 and even “The Attitude Poem”? Stop dwelling on what everyone else is doing and change your own attitude! We are in charge of one and only one person: ourselves. People will always be people. Humans will always fall short. Some will struggle with your struggles and others will stumble in ways you never will. Stop passing judgment. At the end of the day we all sin. At the end of the day, we would possibly make different choices than those around us. But, at the end of the day, we are only in charge of our own attitude.
As we leave our conversation for this week, it’s time to dump the mental list of what everyone else needs to change and spend some time acting on what each of us needs to change. It’s time to pick up a saw and begin shortening the plank. It’s time to let everyone else off the hook for their shortcomings. And with all the extra time and mental energy I suddenly have, I can start working on the one person who needs to change the most.