If you know my wife Erin, you know that she often has a 4-foot-tall, curly-headed shadow wherever she goes. This shadow is our 5-year-old daughter, Avery. And, not too long ago, I would have told you that Avery has a tendency to be a bit whiny much of the time. Now, whether this is attributed to my male-ness (and thus my inability to speak “whinese”) or the fact that Avery actually is a bit whiny I can't say for certain, but she always seemed to be disinterested in whatever the rest of the family had planned. As time has passed and we've dug a little deeper into how her little mind works, I would now daresay that Avery's whining about not wanting to take part in activities actually has less to do with simply being difficult and more to do with the fact that she really does put thought into everything she does.
For instance, as I mentioned before, Avery always wants to be with Mom. However, whenever Erin asks Avery if she'd rather go to the store with her or stay at home with me, Avery always has to know where she's going. And, if the answer is ever WalMart, Avery's immediate response is, “will you carry me?” Now, as I said before, there was a time when I would chalk this up to her simply being whiny. But the more I've talked to her about it and tried to keep an open mind about where she's coming from, the more it actually makes sense. See, when most folks think of going to WalMart, they envision parking far from the door, walking all over a huge store, and waiting in line at the check out for what seems like an eternity. For me, this is simply a fact of life. And for the legs at the bottom of my 6' 3” frame, covering distance isn't really a huge concern.
For Avery, however, when she thinks about walking across that massive parking lot, she knows she'll be worn out by the time she makes it to the door. And that's before even making the great trek from the grocery aisle, to the clothes, and finally to the pharmacy section of the store. And to make matters worse, those same little legs will be asked to hold her up in the terribly long check-out lines before again transporting her across the vast wasteland that is the parking lot. To put myself in her place is truly the embodiment of “walking a mile in her shoes.” It helps me to realize that my little girl isn't just whining to whine, but is, in fact, being asked to walk what feels like a mile!
I'm just as slow to learn this lesson with folks outside of my family as well. I often assume the short-tempered waitress is just mean, the sarcastic store clerk doesn't have any friends, or the driver who just cut me off on the access road is an idiot. But, just like a glance at the world from my five-year-old's perspective tells me that the distances she has to walk require a lot more steps from her legs than they do mine, so too are the people around me struggling mightily with issues in life much greater than simply serving me food, answering my questions, or using their turn signal and checking their blind spot.
If I'm struggling or having a rough day, I'd hope that those around me would chalk it up as just that, a bad day, rather than an indictment of my character. And yet how quick am I to deny them that same courtesy. Jesus told us in Matthew 7 that the way that we judge others is the way we ourselves will be judged, and if I expect others to show grace to me, I would do well to give it to them first. And more importantly, a critical spirit betrays what's really going on in my heart: while giving lip service to the grace of God that forgives me when I fall short of perfection, I don't truly believe I have a need for it. If I did, I'd be much quicker to forgive the shortfalls of others and chalk them up to our shared human nature rather than holding others' offenses against them as though they were supposed to live up to my supposed perfect standard. It simply doesn't hold up.
So the challenge for me, the next time I expect perfection of someone around me, is to slip on some little pink tennis shoes and start trudging through that WalMart parking lot. Just as that walk would quickly show me how tough it is on a 5-year-old pair of legs, so too would taking on the perspective of those struggling around me. Instead of feeling slighted when a waitress, or store clerk, or another driver don't make me their priority, I can see it as an opportunity to be an encouragement in their lives and a means of shining the light of God's love into what may be a very dark world for them. And, who knows, just as my daughter asks us to “carry me” when she's got that long WalMart walk ahead of her, so too we may find opportunities to carry those around us through their struggles as well.