I Will Cheer and Not Condemn

Jessica and her dad

Years ago, I read the book Playing God by Andy Crouch and was challenged in my understanding of the concept of power. It turns out that you and I have unbelievable, immeasurable power to exert in this world, and it is incumbent on us to steward that strength well. “Real power,” Andy wrote, “sets free people and things, to be all they were meant to be.”

Real power doesn’t compete.
Real power doesn’t condemn.
Real power doesn’t apathetically walk on by.
Real power invites co-creation. It restores. It serves. It redeems.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something I like to call “The Sisterhood Effect,” which is the amazing thing that happens when you and I and every woman we know come together, for the good of ourselves and others. What I’ve come to realize is that sisterhood is simply the proper use of a woman’s power. “There is room for us all to flourish together,” sisterhood says. And when we come together with the shared goal of bettering our world, we can do some truly revolutionary things.

As I mulled this idea over recently, it occurred to me that one of the best lessons I ever received in the Sisterhood Effect happened through someone who wasn’t a sister at all. The lesson came to me by way of my father, just after the occasion of my Sweet Sixteen.

On my birthday that year, I opened the front door of our house to find a gleaming, yellow 1968 Ford Mustang that my dad had secretly restored. Around its sleek coupe doors and its jutted-out nose was a ridiculously giant red bow. Instinctively, I knew the car meant more to my father than it ever could mean to me, but I was so happy to welcome that car in as my own.

And then came that first “driving” year.

To say that I dinged up that dear yellow ‘Stang would be understatement, for sure. You know how you’re not allowed to rent a vehicle until you turn twenty-five? Well, it turns out there’s good rationale for that rule; sixteen-year-olds should not at all be behind the wheel. The first five wrecks elicited mere annoyance, but by wreck six, I knew there would be hell to pay. That sixth one had happened innocently enough: I’d backed out of my spot in the school parking lot and, overturning, jabbed the car next to mine. Dad would be home soon from work that day, and I trembled over what he would say as I awaited his impending arrival. But then, something transformative happened: after hearing his cowboy-boot footfalls walking up the outside steps, I discovered him, flowers in hand. “I’m so sorry you had such a bad day, baby,” he said, all compassion and good-natured grin. I stood there with those posies catching each of my tears, thinking, “Maybe there’s hope for someone like me. Maybe I’m not a complete idiot, after all.”

There are basically two ways to approach people in this one, precious life, and only one of them is worth adopting as your own. You can either judge, condemn, disregard, and indict people, deciding that they’re shallow, an inconvenience, a mess. Or else you can learn, affirm, celebrate, and love them, handing them compassion at every turn.

When my dad showed up not with a rebuke but a bouquet, he chose celebration over harsh judgment. Yes, I had mangled the Mustang, and yes, there’d be a price to pay. But did that accident—even the sixth of its kind—affect my dad’s admiration of me? The answer is, not in the least. Which should be instructive for you and for me. You may find this hard to believe, but the world will keep on spinning just fine, even with our judgments kept to ourselves. When people find trouble, they know they’ve found trouble; we don’t have to be Captain Obvious here. Instead, we can receive them—troubles and all—and help walk them right back to deep peace.

If you struggle with a judgmental spirit, then I want to encourage you to say these words until you mean them: “I will celebrate others and not criticize… I will cheer them and not condemn.”

I will celebrate others and not criticize. I will cheer them and not condemn.
I will celebrate others and not criticize. I will cheer them and not condemn.
I will celebrate others and not criticize. I will cheer them and not condemn.

Say it loud, say it proud, and say it as often as you need. Let your words and actions be a fragrant bouquet today, to someone who has counted herself out.