Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. – Matthew 7:1-2
WARNING: This article contains subject matter involving sexual assault of a minor. Please use discretion when reading it.
Being in a position of vulnerability can be quite difficult for a lot of people. It’s terrifying! Perhaps you’re the type of person that doesn’t like to share too much about yourself. Maybe you have had bad experiences where others have used things they know about you, against you. Whatever the reason may be for not being vulnerable, it is essential for you to open up towards those whom you are trying to help.
Everybody is insecure to some degree. And those who seem the most confident are usually the most scared. They are so afraid of being discovered as a “weak” person that they put on this persona of arrogance. When questioned, they may even get angry and start yelling. But, it’s fake intimidation. I promise.
However, real confidence is gained through being as vulnerable as possible (another one of life’s little paradoxes). Those who share things about themselves are the bravest, most confident people on earth. Nothing can be used against them because they’ve got nothing to hide . . .
. . . and that my friends, is humility. I see vulnerability and humility as two sides of the same coin. They go hand-in-hand with each other. You cannot have one without the other. It’s impossible.
So, when it comes to sharing your beliefs with someone else, I ask you this:
How can we expect someone to share open up to us, when we ourselves are not honest and open with them?
Now, this doesn’t mean we must share every detail about our personal lives; in fact, I would discourage sharing too much personal information right away because it might come off as you trying to monopolize the conversation, i.e. making it about you! If you’re doing most of the talking, you messed up. There should be a healthy level of reciprocity in the conversation.
Now, there will be some of you that read this and think, “Well, what if they admit something really terrible that they’ve done?” Obviously, if this happens, then it means they trust you enough to share something personal. Here is an example from my own experience to better illustrate this point.
I met a family once that had been going through some very difficult times in their marriage (we’ll call them Maria and Luis). They were very poor; he worked different construction jobs that he could find, and she was a stay-at-home-mom who took sewing jobs whenever the opportunity presented itself.
They had two children, ages 11 and 14 years old. They lived in a small apartment with only a few possessions. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with them. Their children were outside so it was just the three of us talking. We said a prayer, and asked for the Lord’s guidance during the discussion we were about to have.
When we finished praying, Maria was crying. She told me that she had been angry with God and there wasn’t any point in praying. No matter how much she tried, it always seemed like things never got better for her, or her family. So, we talked about her life, but it was mostly me listening to her story – the difficulties that she was going through, and her marriage that was falling apart. However, throughout the first 20 minutes or so of the conversation, it was hard not to notice Luis’ silence. His body language showed that he was paying attention to what was being said, but he was completely speechless the entire time.
After a while of conversation, mostly with Maria, the discussion took an extreme turn. As we started discussing more about their troubled marriage, Maria shared something with me that caught me off guard. She told me that Luis, several years prior, had molested a little girl. She said that they quickly moved to another town for fear that Luis would go to jail. At that time, she saw no way to raise her children alone, so they ran away.
I sat there in disbelief. I had never met a pedophile, face-to-face. I’d seen newspaper articles about sex-offenders, or even TV shows and movies about it, but never in person. What made the situation even more unnerving was I myself have children. My primal instinct as a man, as a father, was to protect my kids. All I could see was my little girl being attacked by this man sitting right in front of me.
I wanted to get up and walk out, but I also wanted to beat this man with my bare hands; and I would have been completely justified! After all, this guy raped a kid! Who’s gonna feel sorry for a rapist, let alone a pedophile rapist?!
Now, mind you, all of these thoughts and instincts and impulses occurred within a span of about 3 minutes. It was as if my brain shut down just to absorb the impact of everything that Maria was telling me.
But, as I looked into Luis’ eyes, I saw a broken man. I saw a man that was so far separated from God, from humanity, that I could not help but have empathy. I felt Maria’s pain, as the wife of a a man who had done something so horrific. I could see that Luis knew the irreparable damage he had caused to the victim, to his family, and even to himself. I wanted so bad to cast Luis off as a monster. But, I knew if I did the normal thing, attacking Luis, however justified I might feel in doing so, it was not what Jesus would have done.
First, I hugged Maria. She was a victim, too. She stayed with Luis because she felt that it was the right thing to do for her family. It was hurting her so much to have to live with not only the thought of her husband being a rapist, but also with the guilt of running away without helping the victim.
I then turned to Luis, and I hugged him too. I don’t know what led Luis to commit such a horrid act, but I did not judge him for it. I loved him as my brother.
I explained to them that my situation as a follower of Christ, and as a man, were in emotional conflict. I told them what I was feeling, how uncomfortable and enraged I was sitting in front of them. I didn’t hold back either. I told Luis everything I thought about him and what he had done. But, I said it with love and empathy. I attempted to show them that I was not there to judge anyone, I was simply there to understand, listen, and help in anyway I could. Although my human instincts were telling me to defend myself, and be afraid of Luis (which is the exact opposite of being vulnerable), I consciously ignored those instincts and focused my mind on healing, rather than destroying.
During the conversation, Maria confided in me that she too was molested as a child. In fact, during my time in South America, I find out that almost all of the women I knew had been sexually assaulted at one time or another in their life.
For five hours, we talked, we cried, we reflected on the past and on the moment. We talked about solutions. We talked about how we might be able to find the victim. I encouraged them to do whatever they could to help her, wherever she may be. We then prayed, together. We prayed for the victim, we prayed for the offender. We prayed for healing and we prayed for humility. We prayed for strength to continue forward. We prayed for forgiveness.
That night, I left their home with a heavy feeling in my heart. I could see that our conversation had helped a little, but the weight of the past still weighed heavily on them. I also couldn’t shake the feeling of hopelessness. I felt like there was no justice in the world. That poor little girl was violated and nothing was done about it; in fact, she was completely forgotten – just like Maria, and just like millions of other women in the world.
But, I exercised hope anyway.
Perhaps they will never completely overcome the pain caused by Luis’ actions, but they can exercise hope anyway. We can focus on hopelessness and despair (which fixes nothing), or we can focus on hope and optimism (which is the first step in healing).
To this day, I think about Luis and Maria – a conversation like the one we had never goes away. I also think about the victim, and whenever I do I can’t help but picture one of my daughters . . . and the thought sickens me, even to this day. But, again, that is the man in me.
It is so hard not to judge someone else, especially if they’ve committed a serious crime. We instinctively segregate ourselves from those who we deem irredeemable. We lock these people away and throw away the key, and we’re proud to do it! If it happens to someone we know, then we might say things like, “he seemed like such a normal guy, I never would have imagined.” And the reason we can’t imagine it is because of our preconceived notions of what a “criminal” is. We see them as the deplorables of society. The “sketchy-guy-in-a-trench-coat-in-a-dark-alley” stereotype that we remember from cartoons as a kid, or the “stranger danger” nonsense we learned in school.
But the truth is, that murderer, or that rapist, was an innocent little kid at one time. They had all the same dreams and aspirations of being something great when they grow up, just like you and me. But, for whatever reason, their life turned out differently. Most often than not, something horrible and traumatizing happened to them, meaning they too are victims.
Now, that DOES NOT EXCUSE them of any crime they have committed. They must absolutely satisfy justice and make restitution. But it DOES NOT give us permission to look down on them as less than you or me.
So, as we reflect on the personal experience that I’ve shared here, I want you to consider:
What would have happened if I had exercised “righteous indignation” against Luis, shunning him as inferior and unworthy of even my association? What good would that have accomplished?
If there was at least one thing that I learned from this experience, it’s that healing comes when people are humbled down to depths they never thought they would reach. And often, that level of humility is facilitated when we allow others, through our empathy and love for them, to open up and hopefully become better people.
Furthermore, it is in a state of mutual vulnerability that God is able to work. We have heard that “God favors the humble” (James 4:6), and it is because when we remain humble we are in a position to learn and grow.
In the case of Luis, if at any point during our conversation I would have viewed myself as better than him, in any way at all, then the Spirit would have withdrawn itself and it would have been impossible to do any good at all. In short:
If humility brings us goodness, then vulnerability is the path on which we should walk.