I’d rather cry than judge

  • By TARI STAGE-HARVEY
  • Sunday, October 25, 2015 1:00am
  • Neighbors

There were three things I made Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church aware of before they hired me.

1. I hate Precious Moments statues. No idea why they bother me other than their big eyes freak me out and I promise to smash them to tiny bits if anyone ever gets me one.

2. I will steal your pen if you let me come anywhere near it. I absorb them into my skin unconsciously.

3. I cry. And my nose runs. And my face gets blotchy. If you want me to stay in emotional control all the time, then . . . I don’t really have anything to finish that with because it’s just not an option. I wear everything I’m feeling and most things I’m thinking pretty close to the surface.

So it probably won’t come as a huge shock that I cried at a memorial I recently did. It was sad; a beautiful young life cut way too short. I made it through three eulogies just fine. But, the fiance cut me to the core with her dashed hopes of a life together and her profound sorrow.

Everyone was crying so I don’t feel too badly, but I did have to ask the kind lady in the front row to pass me some tissues because my nose was starting to drip on my sermon. Pleasant. Especially in front of hundreds of people.

It could have been embarrassing, but I didn’t feel embarrassed. I get embarrassed when I realize I just went through my whole day with my pants on backwards or my shirt inside out. Not that it’s ever happened. I normally realize halfway through my day.

I didn’t expect to cry. I didn’t know the young man or the family and on paper he seemed a troubled young man. It was in the midst of the fiance’s stories when he became every child, brother and love.

I realized later that the best way to keep the tears at bay and pain under control is to judge and distance. If I go through all the reasons why bad things happen to other families and why they won’t happen to mine, then I can insulate, pretend to be coated in God’s Teflon. If I judge and set myself above, then I can protect myself from their pain. That’s when we pity. We stand above others and call them less fortunate, and shake our heads and fingers as if we care, but it’s got judgment written all over it.

So I suppose I’d rather cry than judge. I’d rather be blotchy than distant.

Jesus doesn’t call us into pity or judgment, but compassion. I would tell you that the Greek for compassion is literally “bowel movement” and my favorite King James passage is Philippians 1:8 where Paul writes, “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” I would tell you those things, but I’m trying to grow out of my sixth grade mentality.

I will tell you compassion is to suffer with our neighbor. That doesn’t always mean tears and I totally realize tears can be dramatic and manipulative. I try to save those tears for when I get pulled over by the police.

Compassion is being with each other in our pain without judgment and condemnation, but a loving hand to hold and a tissue to offer. It doesn’t mean giving people puppy dog eyes, but showing up to help carry the pain of loss.

I was struck recently with the fact that compassion requires getting close to people. It means physically being with folks and getting to know and love them as they are. This really hit me reading Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy.” He writes, “Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including the vital lesson: each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Sometimes I wish I could control my tears (and snot) better, but the only way is to disconnect and I think in my line of work folks would rather keep tissue boxes handy.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is the pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

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