My Hat in My Hands

Art by Bird Brain Studio, click to visit on Etsy
Art by Bird Brain Studio, click to visit on Etsy

I recently ran a post about how mercy should trump judgment when it comes to addicts and alcoholics.Naturally, that same afternoon, I found myself sitting in judgment of a good friend, relishing unkind thoughts about how she’s handling a situation that’s none of my business.

Oh the irony! But the sad truth is, I do this all the time. I’m not sure a day goes by when I don’t indict someone for what seems to me like a poor choice, a backward belief, or a self-created crisis.

Have I always been so arrogant, petty, and heartless? I’m afraid so. But hopefully what has changed is my willingness to admit it. Typically, when I catch myself in the act of judging someone, my first temptation is to scold myself: Who do you think you are?! How dare you judge her! Shame on you!

But you know what? That doesn’t really help, because my ego is never going to feel sorry or try to reform. It just snickers at me and then stores away the negative energy for later use. And guess what? The only thing my ego enjoys more than bashing others is bashing me.

The good news in all of this is we are not our egos, and we are also not our thoughts. I’m convinced our true self is made in God’s image, can’t be diminished by anything we do or say, and only knows how to love.

So these days, when I notice my false-self/ego is gleefully banging its gavel again, I’m learning to do two things. First, I try to practice self-kindness; I look for a way to give myself a truer version of what my ego wants to take away from someone else.

Second, I look for the mercy angle—a shift in perspective that helps me arrive at compassion. I ask questions like: What would it feel like to live in this woman’s skin? What kind of emotional wounds might be driving her? How am I just like her?

The apostle Paul wrote, “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”

I think making allowances—giving others and myself plenty of room and space in which to fall short or screw up—is a great definition of mercy. It’s not at all the same as making excuses. You’re not rationalizing away someone’s responsibility; you’re trying to understand what brought her to this place.

Of course, deciding not to judge someone is a lot harder when the person clearly deserves it; when we’re not just annoyed or critical, this person actually hurt us. In this case, mercy is more than a decision not to judge, it’s a gateway to the more difficult task of forgiveness. But never is mercy more precious than now; and should we succeed, it can have a powerful ripple effect.

I experienced this first hand when I took my 9th Step in recovery. As I went about making amends to people I’d hurt, I noticed how the act of humbly going to people, my hat in my hands, asking for forgiveness suddenly made the idea of forgiving people who have hurt me seem remarkably reasonable.

I should hold my hat in my hands more often.




Author: Heather Kopp at

Heather Kopp is an author and blogger who writes about the intersection of addiction and faith. Her memoir about her recovery, Sober Mercies, was published by Jericho, a new imprint of HBG (Hachette Book Group) in Spring 2013.

97 thoughts on “My Hat in My Hands”

  1. Love! Love to see your shift to the “mercy angle”- if only we could all begin to practice that! Thanks for sharing!


  2. Every day God “breaks” us in little ways, showing us what we are capable of becoming and giving us the opportunity to move closer to His image. Thank you for your honesty, and I love the imagery of the offering hat – and how realizing what we go through to ask for forgiveness allows us the grace to forgive others. Thank you!


  3. I have always treasured the wisdom of Eric Hoffer:

    One of the best reasons for guarding ourselves against doing harm to anyone is to preserve our capacity for compassion, For we cannot pity those we have wronged

    ….compassion alone stands apart from from the Confucius traffic between good and evil proceeding from us.


  4. Great article. My family is watching helplessly as someone we love makes the worst mistake of her life and rather than show her mercy and pray for her, I judged her bad decisions, motivations and character. This is exactly what I needed to hear.


  5. It’s so delightfully ironic, Heather, your post regarding judging others was written on National Day of Prayer” here in the States. Your post’s subject got me prayin’ & thinkin’!! Always a great combo!


  6. I thoroughly enjoyed your post and the honesty with which you wrote it. I find myself in those same judging shoes some days, most days, since I have teen daughters and it is so much easier to judge them than understand them. Thank you for reminding me that I must continue to try, even when I feel I have failed miserably, take my own hat in my hands and ask for their forgiveness. You brought me hope. Shalom


  7. Wow this is great writing! I’m in recovery as well, and I can relate to what you’re saying. I used to be judgmental, and it ate me up inside. Now I’m free to love 🙂


  8. Oh Heather, I love that you wrote about this topic. When I have to put someone in that ” I’m judging you” chair, a chair I have put people in more times than I like to admit, I have to remind myself of the grace and mercy God has on me. Once I think of God’s mercy, I have no choice but to loose my captive from my judgement chair. Recently, I had to forgive a person very close to me. Once I made that commitment to forgive him, I felt so free. It felt like a ton of bricks had been lifted from my shoulders. I am finally at peace and very happy as I move on with my life. It’s comforting to know other people have been through these kind of things, makes me feel so “human.”


  9. Some people break down and turn to alcohol and illicit drugs. Others break down and turn to anti-depressants and other prescription medications.

    One we call patients; the other we call addicts.

    Just something to keep in mind, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually misinterpreted your writing a bit. I thought you were judging a friend who was an alcoholic while you were not.

        I was trying to say that people go through hard times and turn to different things and that those that turn to alcohol and drugs are often judged a little more harshly than those that go on traditional therapy, but that I feel the two are somewhat similar, so why does society judge one so much more harshly than the other, particularly those people that do illicit drugs.

        I think it’s so hard to not help but be judgmental (as the majority of humans are,) but then not want to get judged yourself – the way most humans deserve.

        I think if more people could let go of ego and surround themselves with others who have let go of ego, things would be easier for all. But again, in a dog eat dog society that is only now starting to heal itself (arguably) that can be really tough, in my opinion.


  10. I loved this. I so needed to hear that 🙂 Unfortunately, the truth is that we all have a tendency to self-judge and judge others, period. The former equally as destructive as the latter. Conscious efforts to stop that cycle and give others a little more credit-and ourselves too, help for sure.


  11. Judging is second nature to us. Taking the focus off of me and put it on someone else is easy. Hate others, hate myself. That age old addict thinking is so destructive. Kudos to you for calling yourself on it!


  12. This exact topic has been on my mind for a week now! I kept telling myself I needed to be nicer to people even if it’s just in the way I thought of them and DEFINITELY to be less judgmental. Sometimes i’m ashamed of the thoughts that cross my mind. But I also tell myself to be patient with myself too and not judge myself too harshly..

    lovely post.


  13. I am glad you conquered the monster. It rages and claims more victims with no regard to their health or sanity. It takes a lot of strength to just run from it and even more to defeat it.


  14. So very true. This was great and much needed. Sometimes I forget to put myself in the reverse role and show some compassion to those who I have felt have “wrong” me.


  15. It’s really hard to look for that different perspective. To try and remain open to other ways of thinking and try and convince yourself that you were initially wrong or misguided. Great reminder! Thank you for posting this. 🙂


  16. We change our minds often probably because
    there is something wrong with the one we have.
    We are broke and homeless but if you give us
    a half decent meeting and tell us a good fun story
    we will toss some quarters into your hat.



      1. As much as I hate to admit it,
        There have been some Spasms and Jerks
        in my life and on occasion I was one.



  17. Thank you for writing these words. I read them last night and came back to them this morning. I needed to be reminded that I am not my thoughts or my ego. I am a beloved and blessed child of God and that He sees me as holy and blameless and without reproach. If I continue to hate those awful nagging judgmental thoughts toward others I am going to continue to hate myself. Best just to admit they are there but that they are really part of the person I use to be and to quit giving them so much attention. Mercy given is mercy that’s first been received.


  18. Hi Heather, I’m sitting here stunned. I’m a believer that there is no such thing as a coincidence and you just proved it. I just checked my email and you were kind enough to use my little painting and when I came to your blog to see what you used the image for I was absolutely floored. I’ve been dealing with a coworker who has been in AA for 23 years and whenever he tells me stories about this I judge him and feel anger towards him. It’s completely misdirected anger I have towards the hurt caused by other alcoholics/drug addicts that are close to me, and every time he tells me things about his sobriety it enrages me. Outwardly I listen to him and don’t show these feelings but I sit and judgment of the hurt he has caused as if it were me personally. I usually pride myself on being a person that is reasonable and you’ve certainly given me food for thought. I’m going to try and wish the best for him. Thanks you for your bravery in writing about this. -Shelly Dowell

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Shelly! Seriously. I can’t believe I missed this comment when it originally came through. Your image is so cool that this post is being featured on Freshly Pressed so it’s getting a lot more exposure and so is your art. Yay!! Thanks for sharing this honest piece of your life with me. I’m so honored. So great to meet you, Shelly.


  19. Heather, thank you for this post. I especially loved this: “First, I try to practice self-kindness; I look for a way to give myself a truer version of what my ego wants to take away from someone else.” Sometimes when I realize how my own needs/hurts/fears/sins are reflected in the person I’m judging, it takes my breath away.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Heather,
    Thank you for your insight. I too have always had this ping pong battle in my mind. Judging…not judging…others/myself. It is enough to drive a person to drink….oh yea, been there, done that. I am still learning about God’s Grace and how it covers us in everything we thing, feel, do or don’t do.
    “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. What a wretched woman I am! Who will rescue me from this battle? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:21 (paraphrased)
    Thank you Heather for bringing into light what we ourselves feel & think but can’t seem to find the words.


    1. Cat, oh yes. Paul says it best! I am so glad you took time to comment today. It is enough to drive a person to drink. Fortunately, once you realize it doesn’t help, there’s a better way, right? If only getting sober automatically made me a nicer person. Then I’d probably get so bored that I’d… well, yeah. You get it. Take care, friend, and have a great day.


  21. Oh, how I needed to read this today! I’ve been stuck in my “Bubble of Better than You” (to use my daughter’s term) since yesterday, trying to figure out how to pop it. People may think mercy is “soft,” but it sure burst my bubble in the right way. 🙂


  22. Heather, saying what i feel alot of the time.. I see this retired Physiologist for a couple of years now.. When I was having trouble with Moment by moment (not 1 day at a time).. he would say, to me, I am not going to get on your case for falling Blake, there is no point, you are the meanest, hardest critic to yourself, He said, I don’t need to pile on.. Funny I knew I was like that to myself but until he said it, I just thought it was normal..
    My journey now in life, I have check points to keep me on track from that “judging” mode of other and myself.. Life since I “Let go and let God,” peacefulness and contentment are the results.. and I am really loving this..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “First, I try to practice self-kindness;… Second, I look for the mercy angle—a shift in perspective that helps me arrive at compassion”. You have really inspired me lately to look inwardly more than normal. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. My worse sin – judging others for judging me. This is a constant battle for me among many others. However, I took a big step in this year long battle I have had with myself and that is surrendering. It is what it is and it will be okay. DUH!!

    Liked by 1 person

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