THE BLOG
12/01/2014 03:57 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2015

You Can't Walk in My Shoes and I Can't Walk in Yours

A group of us at our church gather each week to talk about the scriptures for the upcoming sermon. Sometimes, the preacher of the week even joins us.

This past week we talked about Advent and what we are waiting and hoping for. Of course, the conversation soon turned to the events in Ferguson and what can we do to help peace find its way into our midst. It occurred to me that one thing that stands in our way to peace is that we make assumptions about what another person's life is like, and how that person should deal with problems. Remember the Indian proverb that basically says you can't understand someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. Well, the thing is, I can't walk in their shoes and they can't walk in mine, no matter how hard we try.

I am a white woman, middle-class, with a master's degree and ample resources. But things weren't always like they are today.

In 1983, I went through my second divorce in three years. Feel free to question my decision making abilities at that time, but it is what it is. During those three years, my young children and I moved from a small town to Indianapolis vaguely trusting we would find our way. We found a church that took us in and lifted us up. We made friends who became family. Job opportunities opened up there that wouldn't have been available to me in our small town. Were there downsides to the move? Sure, I had moved away from my own family who would have gladly helped more if we had lived closer, but that isn't how it worked out. The move wasn't everything I had hoped it would be, but it was everything we needed -- friends who loved me without judging, a church that helped us during difficult times, and people who helped me to process my call to ministry.

Not everyone understood why I moved to the big city, nor did people understand why I had gone through two divorces. But most people never asked me what happened. They made assumptions about my decisions without asking me anything at all.

We do that to people all around us. Rich, poor, middle class, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, divorced, single, widowed, gay, straight, transgendered and on and on and on. We all have our stories, and the only way we will find out what motivates us is to talk to each other.

If I moved into an inner city neighborhood, I'd be taking with me my own way of being and doing. I can't walk in your shoes and you can't walk in mine.

I CAN, however, listen better and try to understand as best I can. As we strive to change the injustices so prevalent in our world, I fear that we are going to be pulling together more panel discussions when what we really need to do is talk to each other. We need to listen and try to understand.

Listen to someone who can't find a job that pays a living wage.
Listen to someone who has been pulled over again and again because of the color of his skin.
Listen to a woman who has been raped but no one will hold the rapist accountable.
Listen to a police officer or fire fighter who walks into danger every day.
Listen to a single parent who is exhausted from doing it all alone.
If you can't understand where the anger and frustration is coming from, try listening to someone before judging.

It's the season of Advent, a time of waiting and hoping. I'm hoping we quit making assumptions with our heads and begin to listen with our hearts.