Judgment and Chronic Pain

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Photo Credit: 119 Ministries

Matthew 7:1-2 in the NLT reads thus, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” This may be one of the most ignored commands of Jesus despite the warning Jesus attaches to it. I imagine Jesus gives such a strong warning, because he knew the stubbornness of human hearts. We judge others like we are addicted to it!

The homeless person is just lazy. The immigrant wants a free ride. The prostitute wanted that lifestyle. He’s fat because he has no self-control. She just has more children to take advantage of the system. On that last one, I saw a bumper sticker recently in my hometown of Woodward that said, “If you can’t feed ’em, don’t breed ’em!”

If you agree with sentiment of that last exclamation (or any of the above), then you likely have a judgment problem. By the way, I might have a judgment problem for judging you for having a judgment problem. It isn’t easy escaping the cycle of judging others.

Those dealing with chronic pain and illness are regularly judged by others. Most of the people I’ve talked to about their path to diagnoses have shared with me that they have been told some version of “it’s all in your head” by at least one medical provider. Countless friends and associates have told them or implied that they just want attention. Maybe some have even been called a hypochondriac. Others have been called a “drug addict.”

Sometimes people don’t mean to be this way. A statement like, “You don’t look sick,” may seem benign on its surface, but underneath it sounds like an accusation to the one who IS sick that there shouldn’t be anything wrong with them just because you can’t see it! (A lot of chronic illnesses are what we call invisible illnesses).

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I’ve heard judgmental statements from the chronic pain community as well. Out of bitterness, people with chronic pain can be dismissive of others’ pain, because they couldn’t possibly understand what “real” pain is like. None of these judgmental attitudes are helpful. That’s why Jesus told us not to do it!

We are all likely judgmental in ways that we haven’t previously detected. If you are saying things that demean large groups of people (like immigrants), then you are being judgmental. If you say things that dismiss other people’s experiences (like the chronically ill), then you likely have a judgment problem. Judging others hurts other people. It drowns out their voices, which is sometimes the point of the judgment.

When you begin a sentence about a group of people or an individual that is about to assign motives and cast blame, stop yourself and hear the words of Jesus again, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.”

Refusing to judge others doesn’t mean we approve evil behavior (Actually, sometimes judging others is a way of justifying our own evil behavior toward the ones we are judging). It means we don’t pretend to know what we cannot know. It means we refuse to belittle a fellow human being just because their story or situation makes us uncomfortable. It means we see someone’s suffering and know that we too suffer, even if in different ways. It means we give full attention to voices of others and that we believe them as we would want to be believed.

This isn’t advice from Jesus; it is a command that comes with what should be a sobering warning. But what good news that we don’t have to be judged by the one who knows our hearts the most, the one who knows our own false motives even when we don’t! The is the one who promises not to judge us any harsher than we judge others.

Those of us in the chronic pain world, know what it is like to be judged. We also know what it is like to judge others, because we are all human. Asking God to help us eliminate our judgmental tendencies going forward will take serious prayer and self-reflection. Is it worth it? You can’t afford not to do it!

About David Heflin

I blog about topics related to the Christian faith and the struggle of chronic pain. I have ankylosing spondylitis and have dealt with chronic pain since 2011. I hope to provide support and community for those going along that same journey with me.
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