What texting during church taught me about judgment.

This picture was taken the day I was released from the hospital after trying to end my life.
This Instagram post was done the day I was released from the hospital after trying to end my life. At the time, no one but my parents, brothers, and therapist knew this had happened.

I’m pretty sure I’m old.

I don’t feel old but I’m pretty sure I am because never did I believe I would start an essay with the line, “When I was young …”; well, we can’t all stay young forever, so, here goes nothing – or here goes my youth – you decide:

I can remember in my youth a time when cell phones were only something that Zack Morris got to use on Saved by the Bell (I varied the intro up by using “in my youth” as well as a SBTB reference and now I just used an acronym for Saved by the Bell so technically I’m a cool, young, hip person, right? I thought so. Phew.).

But now everyone has a cell phone and much of how we function and communicate is stored in a 4×2 inch screen. For that reason, it seems that rules of law as well as ideals on common courtesy have been set up to structure how and where we should be using those devices – don’t use them when you are driving, don’t use them when you are talking to an actual human being with a pulse, don’t use them when walking or you will run into things, don’t use them as your flight is taking off and landing as a cruel joke played on us by airlines, etc.

Another place I have heard dialogue about on where we shouldn’t be using them is church. Now, this is not an article in defense or in opposition for either side, I hate a “Facebook fight” like I hate watermelon and being single, so there is no way I want to get that battle going. What this is for me is just a desire to share an experience I had that changed how I now view myself, others, and my relationship with judgment.

I am a Latter day Saint, a Mormon, and so I attend three hours of church with one of those being what is called “The Sacrament.” It is considered the most holy hour, a chance to renew one’s covenants with Jesus Christ by partaking of sacred emblems of bread and water that are in remembrance of his sacrifice in Gethsemane and on the Cross. After the sacrament, ward members give talks for the remainder of that hour that are meant to encourage, teach, uplift, inspire. Given the sacredness of that hour and the ordinances that are being performed, it is normally a place that should be free of electronic devices.

Now, I’ll be the first one to tell you that just like the billion or so other people on the planet, I hate to admit my weaknesses; I hate that I have them, and I hate the thought of what admitting them will mean in the eyes of other people. I generally want to be liked and I especially hate having a weakness if it means that another person will be hurt by that weakness. I believe judgment of others fits that category pretty well. Some might be saying, “well, I don’t ever tell someone when I’m judging them so it’s not hurting them.” False. When judgment is done, whether in open or in secret, people get hurt. We all know how open judgment hurts another but sometimes I believe the secret judgment is what hurts everyone the most.

It causes the most hurt because it creates patterns of negativity in the life of the person doing the judging and those patterns ripple out into the world by means of who that person comes in contact with, and when that happens negativity spreads. Those who have read what I have written before know that I believe in the power of little things, mostly I seek to talk about the power of what little things can do if they are positive but there is the flip side to that in that an impact is made with the negative little things as well; often I would dare to say the impact is greater.

Hurt can also come because my judgment of another makes me less likely to seek for a connection with them, I am automatically putting myself above them in some odd, subjective, ranking that will leave me feeling as if I am better in some way. I am not better than whomever I am judging, I am just different; to me, worth is something that is the same across the board, every life matters, every person is important, in equal amounts, to the person next to them. We all might have different talents, experiences, understandings, intelligence, ideals, but at the end of the day I believe our intrinsic worth to be the same.

For that reason I hate the fact that I do judge others, that I compare myself to those around me and sometimes seek to find myself better by any means necessary. More often than not this is because I struggle with believing I have worth and in my judging, my comparison, I believe I might find a way to find something of value to hold onto. More wrong I could not get so I am seeking to change that. I know that facing something and acknowledging that it exists is what it takes to begin to make that change. However, acknowledgment needs to come with compassion or instead of a stepping stone for change, the weakness will be turned into a stone with which to beat oneself with.

Never was my view on judgment challenged as much as one Sunday a few years ago. I was reminded of that lesson recently and grateful that my view has been altered and I can see that I have changed, I have progressed – possibly not to the point I want but any progress is success. Now, if I’m honest I would say my judgment of others who used cell phones during church to snapchat, Facebook, or text message wasn’t some huge barrier, it didn’t cause me to seethe for hours or glare in the direction of someone using their phone, but it was real. It was something I noticed, something I would have cross my mind as I observed it happening and when it did I think I believed myself to be above that person.

It continued like this until one Sunday when I had an experience that would highlight to me why judging people is often pointless and erroneous because of the one huge fact I often forget: we never have the whole story.

This particular Sunday happened to take place for me in one of my low moments. It had taken every ounce of energy and will to make it to church that day. I was full of anxiety, depression, and I was suicidal. I had experienced weeks of triggering moments that would take me back to my childhood sexual abuse, I hadn’t slept well in weeks, and I wanted to be done with all the pain I felt. It happened to be just during the sacrament meeting that I was able to get a hold of my therapist. We were texting back and forth as I expressed my feelings of wanting to end my life and in one the moments as I waited for a reply, I looked up to catch the glaring eye of a fellow worshiper. They glanced down at my phone with disapproval and then up at me as they turned back towards the front of the room. I remember feeling shame mixed with indignation, I wanted to shout, “You don’t know me! I know I shouldn’t be texting but it’s either that or killing myself so you pick!” Now, do I know for sure that the look I received happened because I was on my cell phone? Of course I can’t know for certain, it could be that in my heightened emotional state I was misreading the situation or possibly they were annoyed and distracted by my deep, wrenching sobs of anguish … just kidding, there were no sobs. Regardless of what was actually happening, what hindsight allows me to speculate, I believed the use of my cell phone to be the reason for the look and so that became my truth.

I can’t tell you what happened after that moment because I don’t remember anything else. I haven’t thought of that in years, that is until yesterday as I was sitting in church and noticed that the girl in front of me was on her phone. I remembered all the times that it used to bother me and how it doesn’t anymore, I remembered overhearing recent conversations about how people need to stop using their phones in church and how I didn’t really participate or have an opinion, and lastly I remembered this moment when I was suicidal and texting during church and all that I have learned since. I kept staring at the girl because I wanted her to look up, I wanted her to catch my eye because I wanted the chance to smile at her and hope in my smile I communicated so much more.

I wanted to communicate to her that I see the world differently now. I wanted her to know that I now know I can never discern what is really going on for a person and so instead of judgment I want to convey love, convey understanding. Who’s to say that the reason she was on her phone wasn’t similar to mine those many Sunday’s ago? Or that the speaker just started talking about a topic or principle that is really hard for her to deal with and so to protect herself until she is ready to emotionally deal with it she turns to her phone, to distraction? Who’s to say that her belief in God is fading and she’s struggling and that it took everything in her to just walk in the building that day and love is what she needs not judgment about certain behaviors?

What we see isn’t always all that is there; that is the problem with judging another person. How one behaves is in direct correlation with their beliefs and the experiences that have happened to them and rarely am I in possession of that information as I make my judgment. The lesson I was reminded about yesterday is so much bigger than just making sure I hold back judgment of those using cell phones in church. It points to the knowledge I have that there is always more to something or someone than we understand and so our responsibility is to focus on our own journey and love others through theirs’. The more time I spend judging or policing the behavior of those around me the less time I have to really work on my own stuff, my own weaknesses, and yikes, we all know there are a lot of those to work on.

Kindness is my favorite attribute and it can’t exist in judgment. So, the challenge is set for me and for you to look to those around us with love not judgment, to remember we only see ten percent of the iceberg when we look at another’s behavior or belief. How grateful I am that we are permitted to grow, to change, to be better. Life is hard for everyone and the more that I remember that the easier it is for me to seek to see in them how hard they are trying not how they might be failing.

In the Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald is able to teach us a powerful principle when he states, “Reserving judgment is a matter of infinite hope.” And, oh my dear friends, how much I am in need of your infinite hope and oh, how I wish to offer that.

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