A Lesson in Humility from the DMV Lady
Someday I’m finally going to learn to stop assuming that I always have enough information to judge the people and circumstances in front of me. I’m obviously not there yet, though, as demonstrated by my recent trip to the Washington, DC, DMV.
You might not be surprised to find that I’m not a big fan of the DC DMV. The people who work there tend to be cold, unfeeling, and unconcerned that they’re the one organization in Washington that is slower and more dysfunctional than Congress.
Anyway, I had to go to the DMV because we lost the registration for our car. And I’ll spare you all the awful details, but suffice it to say the following: I not only had to wait in line and suffer through the laborious experience of receiving service from a DMV employee who looked like she would rather be dead than working – I had to do it three times.
Yes. Three times. With the same DMV employee. In one morning.
Let that sink in.
By the time I stepped up for my third go-round with this woman, I was understandably annoyed, and she didn’t look too jolly herself.
When I put my backpack on the ledge in front of her, it made a clanging noise because I had a one liter, stainless steel bottle of water inside.
“Could you not make so much noise when you come up to the desk?” the woman mumbled, clearly perturbed.
“Could you treat me like a customer?” I replied.
“Excuse me – what?”
“I work for the government too,” I said, “and when citizens call me, I treat them with respect because they are taxpayers – you know, my employer. I wish that’s the kind of service I got at the DMV.”
“Listen, this isn’t personal,” she said. “I have a migraine headache today. The light is bothering me; the sounds are bothering me – it just hurt to hear the sound.”
“Oh,” I said.
I looked down at the counter and then looked back at the woman as it sunk in that her apparent annoyance was actually pain. We had an awkward – but nice – conversation after that, in which I promised to pray for her; but she probably needed to be praying for me – that I would finally realize that my critical attitude is not a spiritual gift, and that I would look for reasons to assume the best when there’s a real possibility that I don’t have enough information to make a complete assessment of another person. It reminds me of the classic quote from Oswald Chambers:
Jesus’ instructions with regard to judging others is very simply put; He says, “Don’t.” The average Christian is the most piercingly critical individual known. Criticism is one of the ordinary activities of people, but in the spiritual realm nothing is accomplished by it. The effect of criticism is the dividing up of the strengths of the one being criticized. The Holy Spirit is the only one in the proper position to criticize, and He alone is able to show what is wrong without hurting and wounding. It is impossible to enter into fellowship with God when you are in a critical mood. Criticism serves to make you harsh, vindictive, and cruel, and leaves you with the soothing and flattering idea that you are somehow superior to others. Jesus says that as His disciple you should cultivate a temperament that is never critical. This will not happen quickly but must be developed over a span of time. You must constantly beware of anything that causes you to think of yourself as a superior person.
There is no escaping the penetrating search of my life by Jesus. If I see the little speck in your eye, it means that I have a plank of timber in my own (see Matthew 7:3-5). Every wrong thing that I see in you, God finds in me. Every time I judge, I condemn myself (see Romans 2:17-24). Stop having a measuring stick for other people. There is always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation. The first thing God does is to give us a thorough spiritual cleaning. After that, there is no possibility of pride remaining in us. I have never met a person I could despair of, or lose all hope for, after discerning what lies in me apart from the grace of God.