“Cut me a break,” I begged, as my husband laughed at my primitive Spanish. He responded to my plea with even greater laughter.
“What’s so funny?” I asked, waiting for him to stop chuckling and catch his breath.
“It’s ‘cut me some slack,’ he said, or ‘give me a break.’ You just combined two different cliches.”
“How about you do both?” I invited. “How about you ‘cut me some slack’ and ‘give me a break.’ I didn’t serve a mission in South America, and I like combining cliches. It’s efficient.’”
Whether we say, “Cut me some slack,” or “Give me a break,” or any number of pithy sayings, the message is vital. The ability to love one another, along with our faults and failings is the key to charity. When we resist the temptation to criticize and condemn we exercise charity, the pure love of Christ.
The expressions, “cut me some slack” and “give me a break” both imply that if you only knew my entire story, you wouldn’t be so hard on me. Charity is all about not being so hard on one another.
The Rest of the Story
One of my friends once expressed dismay at the size of a woman whom I had invited to lunch with us. Before she was able to conclude her judgmental comment, I asked, “Did you know this woman is ill?” I explained that the woman had a disorder that caused her to gain weight and prevented her from losing it. Once my friend understood the rest of the story, she had compassion, and was better able to exercise charity, or the true love of Christ.
My father tells a story in his book, From Playpens to Proving Grounds, about a sales clerk who heard a crashing sound while working in the china department of ZCMI. She was about to severely reprimand the boy scouts who were chasing one another through the store when she realized that, not boy scouts, but a blind woman with a white cane, had inadvertently toppled the china. Once the store clerk knew the rest of the story she was not angry, but compassionate, charitable, more Christ-like.
After twenty years working as a counselor, I am convinced that everybody has a story. Because I have the privilege of learning “the rest of the story” in a counseling setting, it is easy for me to exercise compassion for people who seem to be wallowing in mistakes. It is easy for me to understand why they are the way they are when I know some of their background, and the extent of their trials.
Being less judgmental or critical is easy once we know the entire story. But we seldom know the entire story. Charity occurs when we refrain from judgment even when we don’t know the whole story.
Who Knows Our Story?
Only one person who ever lived knows our entire story. In fulfilling the atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ took our pains upon him, as well as our sins. He knows our background, our genetic makeup, our experiences, our grudges, our limitations, our wounds: he knows everything about us, exactly how we feel, and why we feel the way we do.
Christ will have charity for us even when we’re foolish, or naughty, or naive, or rebellious because he does know the whole story. He is the only one who actually knows how we feel, and why we feel the way we do.
If we knew one another as well as Christ knows us, it might be possible for us to love as Christ loves. We can’t know our fellow man as well as Christ does, but we can remember that everybody has a story we may know nothing about. We will be able to “cut them a break” when we acknowledge that if we knew their story, we would be compassionate and charitable. We don’t need to know exactly what the story is in order to be compassionate and charitable. We can refuse to criticize or judge others simply by acknowledging that we don’t know the whole story and are therefore not in a position to judge.
We Don’t Even Know Our Own Story
Frequently when I hear some of the stories my clients share I am humbled to the dust. On the surface they look like they just can’t get their act together. However, once I learn their story I think, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
Often I have said to my clients, “If I had been through what you have been through, I might be in the same boat you are in.” My hope is that my clients will have charity for themselves. We are often frustrated with ourselves, judging ourselves against others whose story is entirely different than ours, and then thinking we should have the same ending they have.
Sometimes the person suffering does not know his own story any better than he knows another’s story. In fact, his story actually began before his ability to remember. One of the exciting benefits of family history is we can uncover more of our own story. But even as we delve into our past, there will still be mysteries we are unable to solve. Therefore, we need to cut ourselves a break, just as we do for others. We need to exercise charity with ourselves and hold onto the hope that, although we might not know the origin of our story, we can be the author of its ending.
Because it is so difficult to know everybody’s story, even impossible to know the whole story, it is impossible for us mortals to judge fairly. In light of our inability to judge fairly, we could save ourselves a lot of embarrassment if we just exercise charity. We can assume there is a story, and if we knew it, we would understand. In the meantime, that person needs us to “cut them a break.”
A young lady was once sharing an experience that had surprised her. “It came right of left field,” she said about the experience. One of the men in our company whispered in my ear, “I guess she has never played baseball.” “Probably not,” I responded. “Good of you to understand.”
JeaNette Goates Smith is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Jacksonville, Florida. Her books about relationships can be found at www.amazon.com.