The Judge in All of Us


I made my way through the crowd milling in the church foyer toward my good friend. She saw me coming and waved me to her side Tall and sleek in a camel blazer and  brown slacks, she looked as stunning as ever.

I heaved an inward sigh.

I’d called and left messages. Texted. Offered to bring soup, but no response. 

But I understood. Cancer explains so many things, including being too sick to pick up the phone.

We chatted briefly about her illness and mine. Our conversation drifted to the indignities and realities of sickness.

Not being able to go to the bathroom. Not being to stop going to the bathroom.

Nausea. Headaches. Chronic pain.

Fatigue so deep you cry at the thought of putting on your pajamas.

Brain fog so intense you’re not sure you can find your bedroom.

We were laughing as we made our way toward the auditorium–two sisters who understood one another’s private worlds.

She stopped briefly and looked into my eyes. “I have to apologize to you, Shelly. I had no idea what you were going through a few years back when we were working together. I judged you when you were in pain and needed a break, and I let you know it. I was filled with pride toward people who were suffering. I didn’t have a clue what it felt like to be ill all the time. Please forgive me.”

Of course I forgave her. I’d forgiven her long ago. And I never, ever, ever wanted her to suffer with cancer, something I’d always feared for her because of her family history.  I’d trusted her heart and understood that she’d been acting out of ignorance of what she didn’t understand and judged anyway–just like we all do. That didn’t mean I hadn’t been hurt and felt judged.

We all judge people and circumstances we don’t understand or can’t relate to.

People who disagree with us or dislike us, people who are different from us, people whose values we dislike, people we don’t understand.

Take for instance, the guy standing on the corner in the snow asking for money. I tell myself he’s a scammer. I’m doing him and society a favor by not handing him a few bucks or a warm fast-food hamburger. Judgment without knowledge.*

Or what about my brother or sister in Christ who worships differently than I do? Or holds a different view of drinking or vacationing or educating their children or fill-in-the-blank?  What scripts do I write that demean their value as children of God?

One of the greatest gifts of my life is my deep friendship with a dear woman of God who is unlike me in more ways than I can count. Our backgrounds are as contrasting as black and white. We are not the same race. She is a hippie pretending to be an adult. She has taught me to see people who are different from me through new eyes and with fresh compassion. She has given me the desire to ask, “What brought you here?”  “What pain do you carry?” “What things have made your heart cry out for God?”

But rather than express curiosity and seek commonality, we typically gravitate toward pride and judgment.

If we listen to our self-talk, we’ll find we judge others 24/7.

Our kids, our spouses.

Neighbors, friends, co-workers.

Relatives and their relatives, neighbors, and friends. But he antidote for negative self-talk and judgment of others is actually quite simple. We’re to love others as we would want to be loved.

Our church family.

Politicians. Politicians. Politicians.

The answer for our judgmental hearts is as easy and as difficult as loving others as we want to be loved.

In other words, treating others as we would want to be treated.

If we were homeless and standing on a cold street corner.

If we had cancer, a mental illness, chronic illness or needed a second chance.

If we were considered an enemy or an adversary.

With humility, grace, and dignity.

Like Jesus, with freedom in forgiveness and lavish love.

Evaluate your self-talk. Are you loving others as you would want to be loved?


Self-Talk: The Monster Inside

Silent Seduction cover jpgI spent an hour on the Internet today reading about Bobbi Kristina Brown, hoping to get an update on her medical condition. I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t prepared to see the pride, arrogance, and judgment directed toward her and her family. I sat stunned for a few moments. And then I wept.

The same way I’ve wept for judgment brought against ministry leaders and their families who haven’t healed from grief according to others’ expectations or for spouses who have been vilified and shunned for their partner’s sins. Or for the voice inside all of us that tells us that we are not among the worst of sinners, like the rest of the world.

The acid I’ve seen spewed reminds me of myself.

Just this morning my husband Dan extended grace to me when he tried to help me find something I’d misplaced. In my frustration, I offered him a sarcastic tone and a condescending attitude. I’ve doled out that tone and that condescension for years, along with disdainful body language and disrespectful jibes. Until I learned to listen to the self-talk inside my head and my sinful, arrogant rationalization a few years ago, I was callous to my egotistical pride.

I wanted to tell myself that I’m entitled to a “pass” because I’ve been living for three months with an undiagnosed lesion in my brain stem. But the truth is that my illness does not overrule my freedom of choice. And it does not overrule my ability to respond to the prodding of the Holy Spirit to repent.


For thirty years, I ground my husband (and children and others) underfoot and dismissed it as humor, a strong spirit, or my “Burke” personality.

But beneath the veneer of my self-talk, I was really wrestling with my own pride at the expense of the dignity and honor of those I claimed to love.

In the past few years, God has helped me recognize the true motive that often drives me–pushing people behind me for the satisfaction of placing myself first.

I waited on pins and needles the rest of the day for Dan to come home so I could apologize for my biting spirit.

On March 17, Focus on the Family will re-air an interview on my book The Silent Seduction of Self-Talk. It’s a book that rose from the tempest of my long struggle with ungodly self-talk–a struggle I see reflected every day in people around me.

We rationalize our lust for power.

We jockey for position ahead of others We promote our personal agendas and self-interests. We run through life ripping dignity from the hands of others in order to make ourselves feel good. And we rationalize our behavior.

We’re tired. We’re frustrated. We’re fed up. Life stinks. People disappoint us.

We think we’re entitled to a little attitude now and then.

A little snarling, a little condescension, a few racial slurs, a little sexism, some eye-rolling and arm-crossing when it comes to people who are different than we are. We’re not expected to be perfect, after all.

Not perfect–just called.

We’re called to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love people as ourselves out of the overflow of God’s abundant love.

We’re called to love as Jesus loved–in word and deed, even when it costs us.

We’re called to love in word and deed when we’re tired. When we’re frustrated. When life stinks. When people disappoint us. To lift others up and place them first. To take our place at the end of the line. We’re called to dig deep and examine our motives before before we open our mouths.

For me, that means a lot of heartwork before my feet even hit the floor in the morning.

So, world, forgive those of us who aren’t loving you well in the pain you’re experiencing right now.

Life is a daily battle to live out the gospel in word and deed as we love others.

It’s about laying down our lives in gratitude in the shadow of the cross.