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22 May 2021
Learning to deeply appreciate the hardships others face
Words Anne Farquharson
In a recent group discussion via Zoom, we were exploring issues around seeing flaws in others and not in ourselves and the subsequent hypocrisy when judging and criticising others. This discussion was based on the Bible verses in Luke chapter 6, verses 37-45.
My thoughts went immediately to where I am proud to work – in the Salvos Doorways emergency relief service. This national service gives community members facing hardship a space to come and share their story and know it has been heard, that they are not alone in those hard times and that someone cares. Often the stories heard in this space are disturbing – but to the storyteller, it is how it is. Seeing another’s story as their truth takes experience and skill and this is done daily by the many Doorways workers who make up my Victoria South East team. I am often challenged by this team to accept others without judging or condemning who they are or what their situations might be.
The community members who share their stories with us come from many different backgrounds. Some are asking for help for the first time, some for the 20th. Many are marginalised from society because of lifestyle choices, others face discrimination because of mental health issues; many are experiencing homelessness on the fringes of society or are living on the edge of a constant battle to avoid eviction and desolate poverty.
I am proud of how our Doorways team always accepts a community member’s story just as it is told – without judging or criticising the storyteller. Without first-hand experience of daily walking alongside community members, it is difficult to truly accept the hardships faced by many in Australia. The Doorways team knows that each story told is one of an individual’s hardship – and hardship is relative. What is a hardship for ‘Mary’ may be manageable by ‘Betty’, but that does not make ‘Mary’s’ hardship less real, less true or less worthy of help.
While my head and my heart can honestly say it is not helpful to judge and criticise another’s story, I often fall into the abyss of judging and criticising others. When reading the biblical book of Luke, I was reminded of one significant memory a few years ago when I was struggling to understand someone’s version of events that had led to a dissolved working relationship. I had responded to their story with cynicism, scepticism, disbelief and dismissiveness. I only wanted to disprove their story and justify my own story.
This memory challenged me to admit I did not respect the storyteller in the heartfelt telling of their story. I was challenged to acknowledge that their story was told from their experiential understanding of their situation, their loss, their pain, their hardship – and therefore, truth. It was not my place to dispute the veracity of what I heard. It was not my place to ridicule or humiliate another’s story to disprove it or minimise its significance and value to the storyteller. I was reminded that stories always come from the experience and perspective of an individual’s worldview and values.
The reading from Luke chapter 6, verses 37-45, reminded me again that I can never have a true appreciation of what another human faces if I judge them without first acknowledging my own shortcomings and, if I judge their story as false and then criticise them for their story, I am, in truth, judging and condemning myself before God.
The words in Luke challenge me to always respect the storyteller. An individual’s story is theirs alone and all I need to do is listen, hear, accept and honour the storyteller’s truth.
Major Anne Farquharson is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) and Doorways regional manager in South East Victoria.