We assume someone who is overweight should just work out. Or the skinny kid should eat more.

We assume the single 30-something has too high of standards. Or maye there’s something wrong with him.

We assume the childless couple is self-absorbed, preferring wine and cheese parties and late night soirees to slumber parties and the sleepless nights of parenthood.

We assume the frazzled mother could benefit from some parenting classes. Or maybe she failed them.

We assume the failing marriage is his fault. Or hers.

But we don’t know that the girl with extra weight has tried everything. That the skinny high schooler eats 4000 calories and works out every afternoon.

We don’t know that our 30-something neighbor met a few girls online, but nothing panned out yet. He didn’t want to settle for a shallow version of love. And he’s already had his heart broken more than once.

We don’t know that the couple with no kids started fertility treatments last year, to no avail, and they’re trying to decide between IVF and adoption, both of which may break their hearts and their bank accounts.

We don’t know that the strung out mom at the park, the one we can’t believe is yelling at her kids, is about three days from getting evicted and her husband took off again, this time, maybe, for good.

We don’t know that the husband fought on hands and knees for this marriage that “can’t be saved”. He doesn’t want to give up, but he doesn’t know how to take back the years of pain he caused. He can’t heal her. He can’t do all the work.

It’s easier to stand far off, to judge, label and categorize. It doesn’t require my time if I can write someone off as “beyond help”.

My heart never has to break; I never have to open my wallet if it’s her fault she’s getting evicted. I can pass blame. I can cast stones.

But when I judge, I lose touch with myself. I become someone I don’t even like, a hypocrite. A Pharisee, stone in hand. And I forego the thing I will one day need most: mercy.

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Not only that, I miss my role as a human when I judge. I stand on the outside instead of leaping into the jungly mess with the hurting. Maybe I won’t be able to pull them out, but at least they won’t be alone. And when the time comes for me to need the rescue, I will be able to receive what I’ve given.

The measure of mercy I use will be measured back to me. The mercy I dole out is the mercy I’ll receive.

Mercy is required of us, a command. But it’s not just that. The day will come when I need mercy, and if I’ve been stingy with this big-hearted, compassionate forgiveness, I will find that mercy is stingy with me.

Let’s not stand far off, fingers pointed away from ourselves. Let’s not be accusers who steal dignity and humanity from someone with our assumptions. Instead, let’s be controversial. Let’s assume the best, ask questions and let people keep their precious humanity so when the time comes, we may receive that same mercy, free of accusation.

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