I still think of myself as being about 26—until I pass by a mirror or a plate-glass window and see my late grandfather, Fred Prather, staring back at me.
As you age, a lot of things change besides your looks.
I’ve written this before, but one thing I find different in my own life is that, the older I get, the less I judge people.
Basically, I don’t judge anybody anymore for anything.
I mentioned this in a speech I gave recently. In the question-and-answer session that followed my talk, a member of the audience asked me to explain what I meant.
For instance, does that mean I find all behaviors equal? Does it mean I’m against, let’s say, convicting felons of their crimes and sending them to jail?
No, I don’t mean that. Not at all.
In my opinion, we probably do send way too many people to jail. But to borrow a line from Richard Pryor, I still say, “Thank God we have prisons.”
If I were to sit on a jury, I’d vote to send certain criminals away. There are careers thugs who prey on the innocent, who maim, rob and pillage time and again.
They’re called Congress. (Ha! That’s a joke!)
Seriously, there are some people who are dangerous, who definitely ought to be locked up where they can’t hurt their fellow humans.
But what I’m trying to say is this: the older I get, the less willing I am to judge other people’s hearts or relationships with the Almighty.
I don’t know who’s truly evil and who’s good, who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. Those are God’s calls, not mine, and I find myself increasingly happy to leave the verdicts up to him.
Even in the case of a career criminal, I can never know all the factors that made him the person he is. I can’t know his secret thoughts.
He may have been malnourished, abandoned or tortured as a toddler. He may have suffered a brain injury in a car wreck that affected his ability to control his impulses. He may hate the things he does and pray every night for forgiveness and to be delivered from the demons that drive him.
The point is, I don’t know.
So it’s not my place to condemn him as a human being. It’s not my place to decide whether he’s one of God’s children. It’s not my place to look down on him.
It is my place to remember: there but by the grace of God go I. Every day, it’s my place to extend that grace and the benefit-of-the-doubt to malefactors great and small.
I knew a young woman who was married and a mother. She was attractive, funny, college-educated and held a professional job. She seemed to have everything.
When a mutual friend told me she was also conducting a long-term affair with a much older man, I was surprised—and, frankly, put off.
Time went on. I got to know her better. I learned that as a kid she’d been raped by the father of a playmate. Her own family had endured a murder and a suicide.
Her husband was a closet addict who spent much of his time unemployed. Her only child suffered from an incurable, debilitating disease; she was the primary caregiver.
The more I learned, the more I understood why she might have made some of the choices she made. After a while, she became one of my heroes. I couldn’t imagine how she functioned as well as she did.
I was pretty sure that if I’d had to deal with all she’d dealt with, I would have done a lot of worse things than she’d done.
I’m not trying to justify her affair. It’s not my job to justify it.
But it’s not my job to condemn her, either.
I’m simply saying that, when we look at people superficially, going by outward appearances, focusing on their mistakes, it’s easy to wag our heads self-righteously.
But there’s no way of calculating how many things we don’t know about them. You and I have no idea what they’re struggling with, what they’ve been through.
And since we don’t know, we’re in no position to judge.
In God’s sight, they might be far better people than we are.