I have been on vacation in the mountains with my family, so I haven’t worked out for two full weeks. Today I went back. I decided I would run a 5K then do some weights. I labored up the 5 flights of stairs to the running track at the gym to discover there were people in the basketball court below. This is a pretty rare thing. I have been running there for about 9 or 10 months and there is rarely ever anyone else there. (It could be the 5 flights of stairs required to get there, or the early hour I go, or perhaps because it is a little creepy up there).
The track is small (22 laps = 1 mile) and it goes around in endless circles. The center is open to a basketball court that you look down on. On the basketball court was a family of five. Mom, dad, two sons and a daughter. The dad was busy teaching the boys to box which gained my attention because in my twenties I boxed competitively. The mom was on a wooden bench against the wall. The daughter came up to the track and was walking with a few jogs thrown in occasionally. She was a plump little girl of about 10 or 11 years old and she couldn’t run for long before she needed to stop and walk again. I smiled each time I passed her hoping I was encouraging her to keep going because in those few moments of running she would throw her arms out like an airplane as if it were the best feeling in the world. I, on the other hand, was just trying to keep my pace steady and my breathing regulated.
Something about her stirred my soul. As I made my way around and around the track, I started to pray, as I normally do when running.
God interrupted me very quickly and said, “ask her if she is going to box.” It was a weird thing, but I felt fine doing it. So on the next pass, I smiled at her and said, “are you going to box next?” She cast her little eyes to the ground and didn’t answer.
She only went around the track one more time before going back down to the basketball court and joining her family. I kept running in circles. I don’t know if you have ever run 70 circles around a creepy “room” but it can be pretty mind-numbing if you let it be. So I typically use the time to pray and think through the plot of the book I am working on. However, today this little family filled my thoughts.
I watched as the dad worked arduously with the boys on their boxing. He was so intense I thought they must be going up against Mohammed Ali soon. I watched as the mom surfed through her phone until eventually going over and helping the dad. I watched as the daughter sat on the bench, bored, doing nothing. Looking sad and forlorn. And I began to write their story.
Now keep in mind that this is what I do. I write stories. But even outside the novels I write, in life, I make up stories for people. If someone cuts me off in traffic, I make up a backstory for their day to help excuse it. If someone is rude to me, I make up a story to explain why. It helps me see people with compassion – most of the time. So I painted their story with my brush and soon I found I actually was feeling anger towards these parents I did not know, based on something I had totally made up in my head.
You see, I wanted her to box but it seemed like I was the only one. So as I ran circle after circle I filled in her story and convinced myself that her parents wouldn’t let her. I felt hostility towards them.
Then, finally, she sheepishly went over and said something to her mom. I couldn’t hear what – I had in earbuds. But immediately her mom started working with her on boxing.
Soon, her dad was working with her too. And then, the brothers. Her face lit up and she was punching and kicking her way around the court sparing with her mom, sparing with her dad, sparing with her brothers. Her dad had all three running drills and she was right there in the midst of it and her face shined with joy. Her eyes caught mine and I smiled at her and gave her a little thumbs up. She smiled sheepishly and looked away. But I could see the excitement in her eyes and I felt overwhelmed with joy for her.
Then, God gave me the smackdown I deserved. “You judged them,” he said.
“I did,” I admitted with shame.
“That’s my job,” He said.
“I know,” I said.
“You were wrong about them. She needed the prompt,” He said.
I started to explain. To make excuses, to offer reasons. But I stopped myself. He already knew all that.
“I’m sorry,” I said instead.
I don’t consider myself a judgemental person. Of course, most people probably don’t. But today I rushed to judgment over this family and convinced myself of something that obviously wasn’t true. I don’t know anything about them. I have never seen them before and most likely I will never see them again and yet I made judgments. Judgments that caused me to feel anger towards them.
In school, we are taught to use context clues to assess situations and draw conclusions and this is a very valuable skill. But, when you use that to draw conclusions that cause you to react to people in a negative way you have crossed a line. Today, I got a gentle reminder from God that it is not my place to judge.