It was between 11 PM and midnight, and the store was almost empty. Walking past the produce section we passed a small group of people, frowning, looking with disgust at a woman who was frantically gathering blueberries off the floor while trying to stop her daughter from throwing more on the ground. The little girl appeared to be around the age of 7 or 8. She was well dressed, clean and smiling, but she was also not making eye contact with anyone, apparently oblivious to her mother’s frantic attempts to stop her from waving her hands wildly in the air, and gazing off in a way that I had seen often on children with special needs.
As I pondered whether it would be more or less embarrassing for the mother if I stopped to help her pick up the blueberries and offered to pay for them, the whispers of disgust from the women who were watching them grew louder, and they began to shake their heads in disapproval as they leaned in to talk to one another like football players in a huddle, their eyes cutting to the mother and daughter from time to time.
That was when Matthew 7:2 sprang into my mind:
For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
I wondered if they were asked, would they want God to use the rotted, rusted cup of wrath they were using when He judged them? Would they want him to see a child temporarily out of control and blueberries on the floor and blame them? Or would they want him to judge them with the shimmering crystal of a mother’s love. A mother whose love lead her to stay with her special child, despite the difficulties that come with special children?
I wondered, is she a single parent? Is she married, with a spouse who works round the clock to pay for medical bills and therapists so that her precious daughter can have better opportunities in life? Is she shopping late at night because that is the only time she is free to shop, or because she knows it will be less crowded? Did she want blueberries today? Or will she feel obligated to buy something she didn’t want to buy, because her daughter knocked it off the shelf.
I wondered what kind of parent I would be if I faced whatever struggles her daily life gave her. Then I wondered about the women who were judging this poor woman. People often respond to the suggestion that they be kinder to others with the statement, “everyone has problems,” and I suppose that is somewhat true, but some people definitely have bigger problems than others. All parents occasionally deal with a child who is misbehaving, but not all parents deal with a child who is locked in their own universe, incapable of even knowing that what they are doing is annoying others. All parents have to shop for food at some time or another, but not all of them are alone in the world, trying to carry the burden of day to day parenting responsibilities alone.
This was on my heart when a friend of mine posted a video on Facebook that showed a child who was clearly out of control on a bus. I don’t know the age of the child in the video, but I’d guess between 3 and 5. He was loud. He was rude. He was smart mouthing the woman he was with. He was kicking and grabbing and hitting at her. The thread exploded with comments about lack of discipline. I am not a big supporter of spanking, but even i thought that was what the boy needed.
The venom of those in the thread toward the woman shocked me though. Everyone assumed she was responsible for the boy’s actions. Everyone assumed she had not tried to teach him better. I suggested that might not be the case. Perhaps she was a foster parent, dealing with behavior taught to the child by someone else, and forbidden by law to spank a child. I pointed out that on that bus there were few ways the mother could discipline the child, short of a spanking. There were no toys to take away, no room to send him to, no “time out corner.”
I have no idea if the child was out of control because that woman never taught him to respect elders or because she married a father whose first wife had not taught the child respect, or she was fostering a child removed from a neglectful or abusive situation. I don’t know if she was abused as a child, and therefore swore never to raise a hand against a child. I don’t know. I just know that judging her was not helping her. Judging her was not going to teach the boy to behave. Judging her was not going to change her actions on the bus that day. I also know that my savior said, “judge not.” I don’t remember a clause that said, “Unless it really bothers you,” or “unless you or someone you know could do it better.”
Maybe this woman on the bus deserves a medal for loving a child who appears to be difficult to love. Maybe this woman on the bus deserves a hug and a handshake for not losing control and reacting in rage. Maybe this woman on the bus, who everyone assumes is a bad parent, is really a remarkable parent whose love is going to change a child’s life.
Maybe we should all stop pouring from the cup of wrath, and start using the crystal measures of love and mercy. A prayer would have helped either of these women. A hug or a kind word might have helped them.
Whispers and public condemnation will not help them.
Love can change the world. Christ proved that.