You hear a lot of things when you walk down a hallway filled with 200 teenage girls. Some hilarious, some tragic, some ridiculous, and some beautiful. At the all-girls high school where I work, though, there is one phrase that I have heard almost every day. It’s an opening line that frustrated me to no end: Don’t judge me.
Oh dear Lord, seriously? Don’t judge me? It’s like saying, Yes, I’m about to tell you this thing about myself, but you are forbidden to say anything bad about it. So just listen, then shut up. A similar sentiment to “you only live once,” it seemed like an excuse people used to do whatever they felt like doing, then to free themselves from culpability.
For months, I found myself biting my tongue each time I heard those words. I felt angry, and I wanted to just grab the person’s shoulders and tell them that there is objective truth! There is moral right and wrong and we have to judge whether we are doing it or not! If we all went around doing whatever we wanted and nobody judged those actions as good or bad, the world would dissolve into chaos. And so, I sat on my little patch of moral high ground and, despite their request, judged.
It wasn’t until I thought about what people were actually saying that I started to change my mind about things. When we ask someone not to judge us, it’s always the opening line to a revelation about ourselves. Don’t judge me, but I love this song. Don’t judge me, but I at a whole bag of potato chips last night. Don’t judge me, I just didn’t want to get out of sweatpants all day. When we say don’t judge me, we are really saying Please, love me. Love me in spite of my faults and imperfections. Love me even though I have some weird quirks, do silly things, and make mistakes. Love me in spite of what I’m about to tell you.
The request isn’t an attempt to avoid moral culpability, it’s a cry for love.
Of course, judgement is still important. There is moral right and wrong, and we have to discern if our actions are working towards the good of others. However, we must never let moral judgement morph into a judgement of the value of a person. That is each of our great fear: that we will be judged and found to be unlovable.
This is one reason why Pope Francis is such a great gift to the church. He is a man whom we have seen teach the truth of our faith with a focus on love and compassion. Recently, we have seen his example of where love and judgement meet in the sacrament of confession. It is there that we have judged ourselves, by the law of God, to have fallen short. It is there that we acknowledge our sinfulness, and ask for forgiveness. It is there that the Lord meets that judgement and returns it with unconditional love. It is there that we never have to ask not be judged, because he is Love.
During this season of Lent, we can each take some time to meet Jesus in the sacrament of confession, where we can be truly loved and not judged.