What do Twinkies and judgment have in common? Nearly nothing; except for their exceptionally long shelf-lives. If I had to wager which has the longer shelf-life, my money would be on judgment every single time. Surely I’m not the only one who can vividly recall moments in the past that are characterized by judgment; indelible comments, offhand criticisms, permanent words. Ask me about all those good things people have said, those encouraging and affirming words and Err…well…there was that one time…I think… I know historically that I’ve been encouraged and affirmed and loved, but those seem sketched in pencil, easily erased, fading swiftly. Those moments of judgment (intended or not), on the other hand, seem to have been etched with a Sharpie. No wonder we need to hear so many words of encouragement and love.

Let me recount a story from my past. It’s not an instance of receiving judgment, though, but speaking it.

A dear friend was dating her boyfriend all throughout college and for a few years beyond. I didn’t like this guy. At all. Never had. She was too good for him. I kept this quiet while we were in school, but eventually, as the years marched on and it looked increasingly like they were going to get married, I felt it my duty to tell her. So I did. I picked up the phone and said these words: I know you are probably going to get married but he’s not good enough for you…yadda yadda yadda… That was the year 2000.

Surprisingly, our friendship didn’t really miss a beat. I was invited to her wedding; she was in mine. We spoke at least 3 times a year, and I always called on her birthday.

Then, around 2009, all communication just stopped. Cold. Dead. Nothing. I called and left messages. No response. She never answered. Never called back. Never ever. I pride myself on being pretty hard to shake as friend, so I kept at it–phoning a couple of times every year. Still, I never heard from her.


Then one day (around her birthday) in 2013 I caught her in the car. She answered. I was shocked, and she was caught off guard. She couldn’t talk then, but we made a date to talk in a week. The next week we connected. The typical what-have-you-been-up-to-these-past-4-years small-talk was initiated and quickly came to an end.

There was a silence and then she proceeded to tell me she about a serious personal issue she’d been dealing with for the past 4 years involving her husband. My heart broke for her as she shared with me, and I wondered, Why? Why hadn’t she come to me? Why am I just hearing about this now…4 years later, 4 years after the fact? We’d been through so much prior to that moment, why stop talking at that point?

There was a pause in her story—a final pause, a pause that asks you to respond. All I could utter was, “I’m sorry…I’m sorry you had to suffer this…I wish I could’ve done something, been there for you.” There was silence on the other end. And then she spoke words that brought tears to my eyes, words that brought me to my knees in repentance, “I couldn’t talk to you, Lauren. I couldn’t tell you. Because you told me you didn’t like him and you thought we shouldn’t get married, I couldn’t talk to you. I didn’t want you to think you were right.”

Those careless, thoughtless words in 2000 echoed into the future and slammed the door between us, even in her time of need. Everything else that had occurred since then—all the other times I had spoken positively and affirmatively–was rubbish compared to those self-righteously spoken words—those words of judgment were the louder words, the Sharpie-d ones, the only words she could recall in the crucible of suffering.

While my knee-jerk reaction (and yours too, I imagine) is to vow never to utter another condemnatory word for the rest of our lives, we know that’s not reality. We’re human, and we’ve many words. Words will be spoken; judgments will be rendered. Yet, as the experience reminded me once again, there is something bigger and more powerful than judgment; The miraculous reconciliation that occurred between us was based in the other, bigger, stronger word of love. It was love that persisted, it was love that answered, it was love that created a safe environment for brute, honest, vulnerability, and it was love that uttered: please, forgive me.

Judgment has an exceptionally long shelf-life; but thank God it’s not forever.