I got a call the other night from a student on behalf of my alma mater, Indiana University, soliciting for donations to the college. As he went through the sales pitch of how my contribution would go toward scholarships, research and technology enhancements for many students, I couldn’t help but count all the ways I thought it might otherwise be spent — ways I didn’t agree with. For all I knew, my money could really be going toward something great there, but since our theologies were different — and I wasn’t about to get into that conversation with a young guy just doing his job — I curtly declined and said goodbye. In fact, I was downright rude.
Similarly, when I’m approached by a homeless man on the street, I can’t help but imagine he’ll take my five-dollar bill straight to the liquor store rather than use it to better himself. Jaded from the news stories I hear of the homeless making hundreds a day without paying taxes and claiming certain corners for “business,” I sharply turn him down also. Or when there’s a knock on my apartment door and someone on the other side needs to make an emergency phone call, my first thought is, Yeah, right. And I turn them down.
I find myself doing that quite often, I confess, imagining what I want to be true about someone in order for it to fit how I think life should be. In short: I judge others in the moment. I find myself thinking, That homeless man did that to himself and won’t get any better with drugs and alcohol. Or, Who doesn’t have a phone in this day and age?
Yet place me in a homeless shelter or church function, and my judgments about those I’m helping fly out the window in favor of service and sacrifice. Why? Maybe it’s the controlled environment and perceived safety of an event with defined boundaries. Or maybe it’s because I’ve chosen to trade my personal time for service, rather than having that time intruded upon; any other time that personal space is mine, not to be interrupted because I’ve had a long day. Or a bad one.
While I can’t speak authoritatively to what one should do in the aforementioned scenarios, I can say it’s not a loving way to act. It takes intentional work to put our prejudices behind in favor of how we’re commanded by God to respond, especially when culture reinforces our pessimism daily with news pieces that detail horrific crimes and disingenuous agendas. How we respond as Christ followers can become a subtle on/off switch based on our biases.
God reminded me of that after my rude response on the phone and even allowed me a reprieve. The student who called sent me a follow-up email the next day thanking me for my time. I felt a prompting to respond with an apology for how I acted and to applaud what he was doing for the university. So I did.
It was a little thing, and maybe he thought nothing more of our conversation afterwards, but I’m so thankful for God’s prompting to apologize. It’s a lesson I will take going forward and a reminder of how I need to be more aware of judging in the moment.