photo-1438029071396-1e831a7fa6d8.jpgSome years back my husband had a complete shoulder replacement.  Years of pitching softball, playing racket ball, tennis and golf had resulted in a shoulder so deteriorated that if he rolled over on it in his sleep the pain would awaken him immediately.

Following surgery, his therapist had suggested swimming as the optimal form of exercise for strengthening the muscles surrounding his new titanium body part.  Our kids began referring to him as their “bionic dad” and cheered him on as he dutifully began swimming laps.  He faithfully stayed with the swimming regimen in hopes of rebuilding and regaining his strength.

Three months after the surgery we were spending the weekend at our lake house.   David announced that he was feeling so strong he thought he could swim to the other side of the lake, about a mile and a half distance.  Our younger son, Jordan, simply laughed.  “Dad!  You’ve never even tried to swim the width of the lake BEFORE your surgery.  Surely you don’t think you can do it NOW!”

“Yes, I think I can,” came David’s simple reply.

“I DARE YOU!  In fact, I’ll bet you twenty dollars you can’t do it.  No way can you swim all the way across this lake.”

The dare and the bet were all the incentive needed and within the hour David had begun his quest.  Fearful that a speeding boat would not see a swimmer who was mostly underwater, I insisted that Jordan circle his dad with our jet ski.   My daughter and I followed in our ski boat just in case he became tired and could not complete the distance.

“I’ll bet you twenty dollars you can’t do it.  No way can you swim all the way across this lake.”

Extra time and energy were consumed when he occasionally swam in a diagonal direction but for the most part he stayed steady and rhythmic with long, powerful strokes in the water.  In fact, he made it look so easy that Jordan decided he would jump in and swim the last fourth of the distance with his dad.  If his recovering dad could swim the complete distance it couldn’t be that hard, right?

Twenty minutes later Jordan was back in the boat, exhausted and panting for breath.  “How does he do that?  I’m worn out!” he exclaimed.  While Jordan was an extremely fast runner, played both football and soccer, swimming was not his strength.  What his dad had made appear totally possible was in reality a pretty impressive and stunning feat.

An hour and a half after he initiated his mission, David reached the other shore of the lake.  I, who can barely do more than keep myself above water, cannot imagine swimming nonstop for one and a half hours!  And although young, healthy, strong and athletic, all of our children gained a new respect for their “bionic dad” that day.  (Oh yeah, and Jordan lost twenty dollars).

The story of David swimming the width of the lake on a dare from his son has become part of our family legend, the stories they will tell their children someday.  But it is also a story which serves as a reminder to me that nothing is as easy as it looks and that until we have tried something ourselves we have no idea of the effort involved.

I remember so well the first few months of motherhood thinking how easy the job had looked when I saw other moms, but how truly difficult and all consuming taking care of that tiny baby was.  And, I have discovered, most things are that way.  

Whether it is starting your own business, excelling in a sport, raising a family or teaching a Bible study, there is always more work, more preparation, more effort and usually more sacrifice than you see.  That is why it’s probably not a good idea to criticize the job someone else is doing if you haven’t tried doing it yourself.  

Until we have tried something ourselves we have no idea of the effort involved.

I spent the summer after college graduation working with missionaries in Belize.  Living in jungle areas with primitive conditions, it would make sense that some of their proverbs and wise sayings would come from their surroundings.  Take this one for example:  “Don’t call the alligator ‘Big Mouth’ until you have crossed the river.”  It would be funny if it didn’t bear such a frightening truth.  

The Native Indians’ saying “Don’t judge anyone unless you’ve walked in their moccasins one moon” is sage advice most people can quote.

Or as Elvis Presley phrased it, “Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son.  You never walked in that man’s shoes.”  Or lived in that man’s house.  Or grieved that woman’s sorrow.  Or suffered that child’s pain.  Or experienced that solder’s loss.  More than likely, they’re doing the best they can with the resources they have at this time.  And more than likely, living their lives is harder than it looks from our side of the street.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help.”  Mama Haas’ household rule was much the same:  “If you’re not willing to help, you’re not allowed to criticize how it’s done!”  I was pretty adamant about that one in my children’s growing up years.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “He has a right to criticize who has a heart to help.”

Ephesians 4:29 gives such good guidelines for our attitudes and actions.  “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

I remember well being that sleep deprived, hormonally imbalanced brand new mom who was trying with everything in her to be the perfect mother.  With a colicky baby who cried much of his waking hours, a house that always seemed in disarray and a body zapped of the energy it once had, I felt like a mom failure.  

I vividly recall the first time someone complimented my mothering skills.  It was to me like refreshing water in a very dry, parched land.  The words “You’re a great mom!” soaked my soul in peace and gave me courage to continue giving my best effort through a challenging time.

“Giving grace to those who hear” is a lavish gift of love but one which costs you very little.  A few encouraging words.  Overlooking a few shortcomings.  Forgiving a few faults.  And sometimes, just refraining from criticism when we’ve never tried swimming the distance.