“How I hate the sight of an umbrella!”
― Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
I’ve loved English authors since I was a young reader. I remember reading the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Dickens and others and being enthralled by the scenery and situations that they painted in my imagination.
One thing about the books that I remember was the rain. I’ve always loved rain, and growing up in Wyoming, it was a special treat when it came. I would sit out on our porch steps and let it fall on me and just feel it soak in as if I were the dry earth around me.
Rain was beautiful and wonderful and amazing! I prided myself that I was not weak and whiny like those in the books I read – no rainstorm would send me in a panic searching for shelter, and I would never even consider catching a chill because of a bit of water!
Oh, you mean RAIN!
My first few weeks as a missionary in Italy were an education in so many ways. It wasn’t just studying a language, or learning the bus system. I experienced so many different things that changed the way I think and feel.
The rain was one of my lessons. It rained almost every day for at least a few hours the first few weeks I was there. This was rain that had been even beyond my wildest imagination.
Stepping out into this rain, I was more soaked in just a few moments than if I had been standing in the shower. It was incredible!
I still loved the rain – the way it made the city smell, and the sound of it around and even the sound of the newly made streams on either side of the roads from the water rushing to find its way to the river, but I had a new respect and understanding of what it was.
I ran searching for shelter until the worst had passed, and I even caught a chill or two from being soaked out in the wet for so long.
Even with all of my reading and my very good imagination, I had not been able to understand what the authors had been describing all this time. I saw things even in my imagination through the lenses of my own experience.
When I read these books again now, the picture they paint in my imagination is much different. Even though I truly thought I understood before, the cities with their brick paved roads, the beggars on the street corners, the intense green, and especially the rain are more real to me and I understand the entire book, including the actions and attitudes of the characters, differently.
Experience Leads to Understanding
I’ve learned two related life lessons from this experience. The first is that sometimes difficult experiences that happen in our lives allow us to truly understand what others are going through. Our lenses match theirs more closely and we’re able to see as they do, and have true empathy because of it.
It allows us to help them through difficult times with a sensitivity and understanding that would otherwise be absolutely impossible, no matter how much sympathy we have.
The second is that these lenses keep us from truly seeing and understanding others who are going through things that we never have, and keep them from seeing us.
Christ experienced all things and that has given him the lenses to see straight into all of our hearts clearly and without distortion. He knew that our vision would be limited by our lack of experience. Recognizing our blindness, he asked us to forgive all and judge none.
He asked us to leave that to Him, and to love each and every person despite our inability to understand them.
There is but one quality necessary for the perfect understanding of character, one quality that, if man have it, he may dare to judge—that is, omniscience. Most people study character as a proofreader pores over a great poem: his ears are dulled to the majesty and music of the lines, his eyes are darkened to the magic imagination of the genius of the author; that proofreader is busy watching for an inverted comma, a misspacing, or a wrong font letter. He has an eye trained for the imperfections, the weaknesses. …
We do not need to judge nearly so much as we think we do. This is the age of snap judgments. … [We need] the courage to say, ‘I don’t know. I am waiting further evidence. I must hear both sides of the question.’ It is this suspended judgment that is the supreme form of charity” (“The Supreme Charity of the World,” The Kingship of Self-Control [n.d.], 27–30; emphasis in original). [*as quoted by Dallin H. Oaks, “ ‘Judge Not’ and Judging,” Ensign, Aug. 1999, 7