Earlier this week, I was walking in our neighborhood and came upon a neighbor’s home with Christmas decorations blazing in the predawn darkness. They were not an inconsequential arrangement of festivity. On one side of the lawn, I found Santa and his elves hard at work, outlined by multicolored bulbs; on the other side, Rudolf and his reindeer were landing for a visit. It was January 12, 19 days after Christmas, and I wondered why my neighbor’s lights were still up for all to see.
Contemplating the options, it seemed to me that two broad categories were possible. One: they paid to have the lights installed. We will call this Category A. Two: they set the lights out themselves. We will call this Category B.
Within Category A, there were at least six options. (1) The owners wanted the lights to be displayed as long as possible, and so had not yet scheduled the installers to remove them. (2) The installer had not yet come to take them down, and the owners didn’t care that they were still lit. (3) The installer had not yet taken them down, and the owners were out of town and didn’t care that the timer lit them each night. (4) The installer hadn’t removed them, and the owners didn’t know how to turn off the timer. (5) The installer hadn’t removed them, and the owners were gone from the house but didn’t know anyone they could ask to turn off the timer. Perhaps they were dealing with a health crisis or family emergency away from Dallas. (6) The installer hadn’t removed them, and the owners had asked for help in turning off the timer but no one had yet done so successfully.
Category B (in which the owners were the installers) seemed to allow for Category A options 1, 3 and 5. In all, there were at least nine reasons why my neighbor’s Christmas lights were still lit on that particular morning. Only two of them align with my first assumption–that they still wanted their decorations up so long after the holidays. Two of them point to a situation deserving of my sympathy, not my judgment.
All this to say, judging the motives of others is seldom a redemptive use of time. A psychologist once told me, “There is always one thing more you don’t know about people.” One thing that would help us understand their motives, even if we do not agree with them. One thing that we don’t know, but should if we are to assess their character.
Jesus was clear: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). While he knows the thoughts of everyone we meet (Matthew 12:25), we do not. It is a good idea to desist from assigning motives and choose instead to offer grace.
Ken Medema, the Christian singer and song-writer, speaks for all who need to see God’s love in us: “Don’t tell me I have a friend in Jesus until you show me I have a friend in you.” Henry Ward Beecher was right: “Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation.”
Which neighbor will find such compassion in you today?