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May 18 2015

I HAVEN’T WALKED A MILE IN YOUR SHOES

I haven't walked a mile in your shoes.

Image by awitikoski ©

If someone says to me, “One thing’s for sure, I’d never….” I stop listening. They’re wasting my time and the breath God gave them. You’ve been there, haven’t you? Hearing the unsolicited opinion of someone who hasn’t walked a mile in those shoes? They judge without authority and criticize without understanding as if they’re doing God a favor with their commentary. What if we could zap them with some kind of Poetic Justice Wand and put them in the shoes of the one they’re judging? I think I’d have a blast with that wand. Well, until someone decided to use it on me.

One thing I’ve learned is that our level of empathy and grace toward other individuals, and more specifically, our ability to not judge them in their situations is largely related to our own experiences. If we’ve had the same struggle, we often have empathy. If we don’t understand the struggle, we tend to judge. When we’ve been there, we see the gray, and when we haven’t, it’s all black and white. Let me give you a few examples to which you might be able to relate.

I thought I knew how terrible a miscarriage must be… until I had one. I had strong opinions about how an only child should be raised… until I found myself raising one. I knew I’d never be divorced… until I was. I could go on. You probably have your own I-see-things-differently-now list, so you understand what I’m saying. Experience changes us, and when we happen to be inexperienced in a given area, we’re more likely to be judgmental. Or in some cases, we do have experience, but it was so painful that a one-sided view is all we’re capable of having. We’ve only walked a mile in our own shoes, so we can’t understand the actions of those who hurt us.

When I was in my twenties, I was in a car accident that was the fault of a drunk driver. My friend and I were incredibly fortunate. The car was totalled, but we walked away with only some aches and pains, and, of course, we were shaken up. Literally one second’s difference in the impact, and it would have been a different story. Had he been driving through the red light one second later, or if we had approached our green light one second sooner, my friend and I would have both been killed. Our lives would have ended in our twenties.

As grateful as I was for that one miraculous second and God’s protection over us, I was equally angry that someone was that irresponsible and reckless with MY life. It made me so angry. My thoughts and judgments were harsh against this man whom I’d never even met, and not one person could blame me. I don’t even blame myself for how I felt, but is it possible that driver has a story of his own? One that might give me a different opinion about him had I not been on the receiving end of his irresponsible behavior?

Indulge my imagination for a moment. Let’s pretend there was another drunk driving incident. In this one, the driver was your son. He was 18, and it was prom night. The letter had just come in the week before with news of a full ride to the college of his choice. He and his high school sweetheart were feeling grown up and like they deserved a “good time” on their big night. After all, they had worked hard all year, and they always follow the rules. What harm would come from letting their hair down this one night? They only drank a little, and your baby boy thought he was still okay to drive. But he was wrong. The accident was his fault, and in this story, someone else’s child paid the price with her life. Your heart breaks for the other family. But what about your own child? He’s not a bad kid. And now, he faces charges of vehicular manslaughter. Can you even imagine? Add to that, the prison sentence of tormenting guilt and anguish he must face. The life you had hoped for him, the one he had worked so hard to earn, is completely shattered all from one night of poor judgment.

The shoe is different when it’s on the other foot. Always.

I haven't walked a mile in your shoes.

Images courtesy of Sebastian Basso at FreeImages.com

There is one thing I had always thought to be so terrible that there could be NO room for compassion. (Please bear with me on this as it is hard for me to communicate.) I had thought that a sexual predator, particularly one who targets children or minors, is the lowest scum of the earth. I’m still not sure I’ve changed my mind on that, either. No punishment could be too severe. Cut if off and leave him to rot. Zero compassion. Period. I have no words for the anger that the very thought of it conjures for me, and I’m confident you feel the same. However, not so long ago, I learned that someone who was once a very dear friend of mine is in prison for that very thing. It shook me to my core. I searched online and found the articles. Every word I read screamed at me from my computer screen.

I learned of it about a year ago, and the thought of it still haunts me. My heart broke for the young girls who were victims. My heart broke for his wife and his young son who is forced to grow up with this shadow following him. And, to my shock, my heart broke for my friend. My friend who had loved and served God. My friend who was genuine. A young man who was full of personality, talent, and promise. He struggled with demons no one knew anything of, demons he probably felt he could tell no one about, so he was never able to get help. And there it was. Compassion and sorrow for the one who did the unthinkable.

When I said that it “haunts” me, I didn’t use the term lightly. My harsh judgment and opinion of the crime itself didn’t weaken, I assure you. He deserved to go to prison, and you can bet if I was the mom of one of those young teens, I’d probably be utterly incapable of compassion in any form. That’s just the honest truth. But the only person in this story I actually know is the perpetrator, and my heart broke for him in spite of what he had done. If I had merely read the headlines, NOT knowing him, I would have been cynical at his “religious beliefs” and the “ministry” he had. Livid, in fact. I would have been incapable of believing he was anything but a complete sham, start to finish. Born. Evil.

But I knew him. I knew him well, and I knew him as someone good years ago. Someone genuine in both his faith and his friendship who must surely still have those roots within him, and I cried buckets over the destructive path his life had taken. I wished, desperately, that I could go back in time and talk with him openly and find a way to get him the help he needed before it was too late. I also wanted to go visit him in prison and yell at him for all he did to others as well as himself. How could he be capapble of this?! Where did things start to go wrong? And had he gone through something terrible I knew nothing about? I hadn’t walked a mile in his shoes, so I didn’t know. I couldn’t understand.

I was still furious, but it was different than it would have been if I had never known him. I cried tears I couldn’t explain and felt pain I couldn’t define. I felt ripped in two down the center of my soul by a mixture of hatred and love that I couldn’t possibly articulate. I’m still at a loss for how to describe my feelings about it all, but it gave me a shred of perspective that I hope I never lose.

I got a small glimpse of what it must be like when God looks down and manages to separate us from our sin. He abhors evil, but He still loves the one who does it. It’s staggering to me to think of it. As a holy God who cannot tolerate sin, this “haunting” feeling is one with which He must identify. No wonder He jumped in. I can only imagine the torture He must have felt by seeing the ones He loves so much being hurtful to Him and to each other. My haunting feelings are related to one old friend. God’s feelings are for billions whom He created to be His sons and daughters. He couldn’t bear the pain caused by the sin, neither could he stand watching the perpetrators (you and me) pay the penalty for it. Ripped in two by His hatred for our sin and His love for us, He came down and took our punishment on the Cross so we could be saved from it all if we simply accept Him.

He loves the sinner as fiercely as He hates the sin. Wow.

And after all that, He looks down and sees us still judging others because their sin is different from our own. And it’s rarely for drunk driving or even sexual perpetration. More often than not, when we look at someone else, we have the audacity to judge them for something like short skirts or tattoos, smoking or drinking a wine cooler… because we don’t do that, and we find it inappropriate. Or maybe we judge them for something a bit worse because of a rumor. We heard that they are sleeping with someone… or whatever. God help us. So what if the rumor is even true? Have we walked a mile in their shoes to know what led to it? Are we without sin that we can cast the first stone? Jesus alone walked a mile in our shoes when He came to this earth 2,000 years ago, and He didn’t come here to judge; He came to seek out and save the lost. What arrogance we toss around when we put ourselves on His throne so that we can pass judgment on someone else.

And don’t think I am not just as guilty. I’ve done it. I still do it. I did it just last night. I judge the sin I do not commit as if the absence of that particular action somehow makes me worthy of condemning it in someone else. It doesn’t. What if someone who hasn’t committed my list of sins decided to cast judgment on me and then tell others about it? What if someone who hasn’t walked a mile in my shoes made sure others knew of my missteps at the end of that mile?

Guess what. They already have. The judger was judged… and it hurt.

That Poetic Justice Wand? Turns out it isn’t as much fun as it sounds. What if we all paused, instead, to realize we haven’t walked a mile in anyone else’s shoes and just whispered a prayer for them instead?

From the heart of Dixie Mama… what if we always said grace?

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2 comments

  1. Jennifer

    You always cut through to my core Hayes. Miles apart and God still uses you to rebuke and refine me in ways that most others can’t. I love your conviction and authenticity. It’s what makes your words a vessel of truth to others.

    1. Hayley Cranfield

      Jennifer, thank you. My prayer is that I do not write my own words but what God wants to say through me. Very often, whatever lesson I’m writing about is one that has hit me square between the eyes :) Love that you’re following the blog and that we still have connection, despite the miles.

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