Yesterday, while dressed in my typical uniform of sweats and a T-shirt, and while reclining as comfortably as possible after staying home from the gym to take a morning nap, I announced a self-judgment to my wife, Gayline: “This is a lazy day for me.”
Playing judge and jury over myself, I interpreted a recliner, sweats, not going to the gym, and an inactive life alongside an active wife as laziness.
Almost as quickly as my conscience condemned me, the Spirit comforted me, enabling me to blow the whistle on my whistle-blowing conscience for its allegations of “laziness.” My self-judgment was, in fact, false. I’m not lazy but limited. The difference matters.
Truth About Me
Though I’m told regularly that I don’t look at all sick, I’m a very sick 64-year-old who has cancer of a stage 4, not-long-for-this-world variety. Doctors can’t or won’t say how long I have—but their hinted prognostications all fall well within the “less than five years” range and quite possibly far less. I’m told my cancer cannot be cured and that our best hope (unless our Heavenly Father intervenes as only he can) is it might be temporarily slowed.
So my self-assessment of laziness was imposed on a man battling with a body impaired by cancer and its treatment. Even though I look healthy on the outside, I’m desperately ill on the inside, which makes it a fight to get and stay out of bed, never mind go to the gym.
This means, contrary to outward appearances and circumstantial evidence, it wasn’t a lazy day for me. It was a limited one. I might have looked lazy, but I wasn’t. For it wasn’t that I could do important things but didn’t. It was that I couldn’t do those things and therefore didn’t. The former is laziness. The latter is limitation. Knowing the difference leads to feeling the difference between judgmental condemnation (from myself or others) and wise and healthy self-awareness.
Why Does It Matter?
To be “limited” is to be afflicted by something but guilty of nothing. With the way I’m wired, however, inactivity feels like sloth, and doing almost nothing feels perilously close to sin. But laziness is entirely different than limitations. Laziness is clearly condemned in Scripture (e.g., Prov. 18:9; 21:25), while awareness of limitations and finitude is commended as wisdom (e.g., Ps. 90:1–12). Laziness is the shirking of duty and the prideful assertion that I won’t do that. Accepting my limitations is the humble acceptance that I can’t do that.
To be ‘limited’ is to be afflicted by something but guilty of nothing.
If I don’t grasp the important distinction between laziness and limitations, and think and speak accurately about what I’m dealing with, I’ll face needless shame and relentless guilt—a curse worse than cancer. The same goes for all who battle chronic, debilitating, or terminal affliction. We need to be realistic in our self-assessments, for inaccurate self-condemnation is both misguided and ruinous to our souls.
Losing your job may mean you don’t leave your house every morning. Nursing a newborn may mean you sit in a rocking chair for hours. Struggles with migraines or insomnia may mean you sleep when the rest of the world is busy. These are not matters for guilt. They are limitations.
A second application—and this one is for all of life—is that I should respect God’s image in others by actively rejecting the first impressions I may have of them. Any observers looking in while Gayline is multitasking her way around me (how does she do that?) while I’m sitting comfortably in my button-activated Cadillac-Escalade-of-all-recliners could easily conclude I’m a lazy man. But they’d be wrong. I’m a sick man, all other appearances notwithstanding.
Ignore Appearances. Choose Understanding.
We’ve all made hasty judgments about others based on first glances and impressions. Unlike God who always judges rightly, we wrongly judge by appearances (1 Sam. 16:7; Prov. 31:30; Isa. 11:3–4; John 7:24; James 2:1–13; 4:11–12; 1 Pet. 3:3–4). Our judgments are killing our relationships, our marriages, our parenting, our church life, our cross-cultural interactions, and our unity in Christ.
There’s a better way. Refuse to prejudge anyone by appearances and human distinctions—whether they be distinctions of class, culture, color, condition, or some other variety. Choose instead to get to know and understand people. Let’s commit to judgments about ourselves and others that are according to truth and understanding, all the while bathed with grace and an almost unlimited capacity for forbearance.
Otherwise, people like me who are stuck in their recliners (or in some other hardship or injustice or beleaguering affliction) will die the death of a thousand condemnations—and cancer will not be the killer. The culprits will be our self-critiques as well as the quiet condemnations of others who don’t know what or who they’re talking about and yet imagine themselves to be the self-appointed judges of all.