“Judge not, Lest ye be judged.” Matthew 7:1-3 KJV
Mama said it and so it must be so! Judging others was something ‘good Christians’ just didn’t do –even if they wanted to. Pronouncing judgement on others could be cold and cruel–like a snowfall that covers up everything…sometimes hiding what lies underneath. All one can see from the outside is the “snow” (or the the judgment) that covers all. The trouble with ‘judging others’ –is that (most of us?) we don’t even realize when we’re doing it. My Mama was like that. It was pretty confusing to me as a child–being told–to follow such an important rule and not quite understanding what it really meant. As a child, I was exposed to a steady stream of my Mama’s ‘critical appraisals’ (as she liked to call them) of others –but yet they sounded really judgmental to me. when I asked about it–to clear things up in my little head–I was told that there was a difference between those “appraisals” and “judgments” and that Mama was a good “Christian” and “good Christians” do not judge! That was ALL i needed to know about that–Mama said.
Mama liked to think here ‘critical appraisals’ were –helpful– to others. I might have been just a kid–but I didn’t see how that could be? Couldn’t see how Mama calling Mrs. Jones’ new hair an “unnatural shade of orange that hurts the eyes” –could possibly be helpful to her. Of course Mama didn’t say it to her face–but she might just as well have– ’cause just about everyone at coffee hour after church on Sunday–heard her say it! And things like that? They don’t stay “secret” long cause there’s so much gossiping going on after church. Seems like people after sitting quiet for an hour or more during the service–just need to wag their tongues once they got out–about anything–anything at all. Lord they all seemed to have so much to say–so many “critical appraisals” and they all sounded like judgments to me as a child..
“That Mr. Parker sure is fine!” Mama would exclaim loudly. “But why he hasn’t found himself a proper young lady yet sure beats the ‘beJesus’ out of me”…she said to Mrs. Appleby one afternoon. ” I wonder, I just wonder… if maybe he’s just a ‘little funny’, if you know what I mean?”, Mama said with a little back -flip of her hand. To which Mrs. Applby sniffed a bit and whispered back (a bit too loudly) “Yesiree–I sure do know what you mean my dear…I sure do know. Men that pretty themselves? They don’t go looking for proper young ladies!” There i stood–wide-eyed and wondering next to Mama–So what was wrong with Mr. Parker? He always seemed so friendly and so nice–guess it was just another “confusing critical appraisal” that I was far too young to “understand”?
When Mama got home from church on one Sunday, she carried on for over half an hour about Mrs. Appleby and her God awful bad breath. “Why, she’s always blowing that nasty smell out her mouth when she speaks, it’s a wonder anyone can bear to converse with her!” Mama said. I tugged gently on Mama’s arm and asked her–“Isn’t Mrs. Appleby your friend, Mama? And if her breath smells so bad–why can’t you just tell her? Maybe she doesn’t know and needs for someone to tell her?” But Mama got all huffy and said “Child, child–There’s just so much you don’t know yet. People don’t take kindly to having others point out their faults to them. Telling Mrs. Appleby that she’s got dinosaur breath would be offensive and (we) good Christians? We don’t offend people on purpose”. Well okay–I didn’t really understand but I decided Mama was in a “listening mood” so i asked her about Mr. Parker. “Mama, what’s so ‘funny’ about Mr. Parker? Does he tell jokes? You said he was ‘too pretty’? Is being ‘pretty’ a bad thing? You’re always telling me that I’m pretty…does that make me a bad thing?” Mama stared down at me and started shaking her head from side to side–“Now look here Missy,” she said–What kind of silly questions do you have inside that head of yours? Have you been eves-dropping on grown-up conversations? You’re much too young to mind grown-up business like that–so you just don’t worry your little head about matters like that–you hear?” I nodded, cause i could see that was the end of it–but I just had to ask her–“Mama…when I get older, will you explain it to me?” Mama snickered a bit –but then said “Child–when you get older you’re gonna find out about these things yourself, and you won’t need anyone to explain them to you”. I shrugged–hoping what she said was true.
Papa walked in just then–had he been listening outside the kitchen door –I wondered? But he didn’t say anything to Mama–he just reached down and grabbed me up in a great big bear hug. “How’s my little darlin’?”, he whispered, hugging me tight to his chest. “How’s the prettiest little girl in all the world?” “Oh Papa!” , I whispered back–just loud enough for him to hear –“I’m not ‘too pretty’ am I?” Papa looked a little startled but replied–“Too pretty? How can anyone be ‘too pretty’? Baby girl–You say that like it’s a bad thing. Where’d you get a crazy notion like that?” Well–I was just about to tell him what Mama had said about Mr. Parker–when Mama came rushing past me and ran straight to the window. “There! There!”, she cried. “Will you just look at that? It’s that Johnson girl from across the street–she just left her house looking just like a streetwalker! I’ll just bet her parents don’t know she goes out dressed all trashy like that! Why–I wear more clothes when i go to sleep than that girl has on in public. It’s a disgrace, that’s what it is! And i won’t stand for it! I’m a gonna go out there and give that little girl a good talking to–someone has to–and her parents certainly aren’t doing it!”
Papa gently put the me down and took Mama’s arm before she could open the front door–” Mabel”, he said softly. You know you shouldn’t talk like that around the little one. She’s like a sponge…she absorbs everything!” I didn’t know what that meant–I didn’t think i was a sponge but it seemed there was a lot I didn’t know about. “What?” Mama shouted at Papa?”There’s nothing wrong with what I said! It’s the God’s honest truth that I speak…or God can strike me down dead where I stand.” I sucked in my breath and held it–what if God stuck Mama down? But as the minutes passed…no bolt of lightening came from the sky, and so I turned to Mama and asked her what a “streetwalker” was? Papa just cleared his throat loudly and Mama told me not to ask so many questions and then stormed out the front door..
Papa sighed deeply. He was thinking back to something his own Momma once told him– “Be careful boy when you raise your own children”, she’s said. “Children learn what they live and sometimes they won’t question what they don’t understand–they’ll just do what you do and speak your words –because if you say or do it–then it must be ok for them too.” Papa knew that the time had come to stop treating his own little girl like a baby. he would have to explain more and encourage her to question more. It wasn’t going to be easy–but he had to try. So when his wife returned–he said “Mabel, the child deserves an explanation. It’s high time you watch what you’re saying and if you don;t want to have to explain it to her–maybe just don’t say it.” Mama muttered a little and then looked at Papa with dark angry eyes–“Don’t you go lecturing me about how to raise no children!” she sputtered angrily! “You who aren’t here half the time and when you are here you just sit around the house like a guest to be waited on! You! You who wouldn’t know where to start trying to explain things to her yourself! You…”, but Papa put his hand up and told her…”Enough! Judge not, Lest ye yourself be judged!”
Mama’s eyes opened wide then. She stared at Papa as if she was seeing him for the very first time. Papa continued…”As for your ‘critical appraisals’…they need to stop! You can call what you do, whatever you want, but you ARE judging others and you have no right to do that! You call yourself a ‘good Christian woman’??? Well take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if that’s really true. Your words are weapons and you go to ‘war’ every time you leave this house…sometimes you start the battle right here within these very walls!”
Papa grabbed me by the hand then, and headed for the door. “The next time you choose to ‘critically appraise’ anyone”, Papa continued, “Just remember what you saw when you looked into that mirror. There are those who could judge you as well…but they simply choose not to. They CHOOSE NOT TOO! I want our child to be kind and forgiving of others. I want her to learn to accept people for who they are and not what they look or act like! And Mabel–IF she can’t think of something nice to say…then she should know it’s better to say NOTHING at all. Think about it Mabel…then you let me know what kind of ‘good Christian’ woman you want to be. In the mean time, this little girl and I will be at her grandmother’s house. A house where questions are asked and answered and there are no judgments disguised as “critical appraisals”.
Mama? I whispered with tears in my eyes. “Oh go on with your father”, Mama said, her voice shaking a little. “Go…Go visit your grandmother– that ‘holier than thou’ creature that can do no wrong–thinks she know’s everything, just like her high and mighty son! Why one would think he’s Jesus himself!”
“MABEL!”, Papa cried out and his wife stopped short and put her hand up to her mouth…her eyes growing wide as she realized how ‘out of control’ she was and in front of her own husband and daughter. She hung her head and whispered…”Go. Just go now…I need to catch my breath and get my head together…I’m not feeling very well. Go child. Your father is right…do as I say and not as I do. Judge not…that IS the ‘Christian thing’ to do…and guess I’ve not been practicing what I preach–and for that i am sorry!”
I ran to Mama then and I hugged her tight. “It’s okay Mama”, I cried. “I love (funny) Mr. Parker and Mrs.Jones with her orange hair and even Mrs. Appleby with her bad breath…but most of all I love YOU Mama and YOU Papa. I just hope I’m not TOO pretty for YOU both to love me….?”
Pearls of wisdom fell from the mouth of a child that day–or so Mama and Papa have told me time and time again, when they tell this story. Me? I’m just glad that they both agree that I’m just “pretty enough” to be their sweet baby girl! That their love for me is warm and true! I’m sure glad Papa and Mama started seeing eye to eye again too! Those front blinds Mama used to run to all day? They stay closed up now–just like Mama’s lips–sealed tight against the “critical appraisals” that used to tempt her mouth to open–just wide enough to let all those nasty judgments come flying out. Judge not…lest you be judged…I like that–and even my young mind–understands what it means now.