It’s always a blessing to get to hear Jurie and Karin speak on the same weekend. If you were at the Women’s Afternoon Tea and Sunday’s church service, you may have picked up on some parallels between what they said, although Karin says it wasn’t planned that way.
Sunday morning, Jurie talked about relativism – the belief that while you have “your truth” and I have “my truth,” there is no objective truth outside of what we believe. Saturday afternoon, Karin joked about how different words mean different things in different English-speaking cultures (e.g., “boot,” “torch,” or “lift,” vs. “trunk,” “flashlight,” or “elevator.”) It’s even worse when we try to communicate across languages – “Yo conto cuentos” sounds for all the world like “I count costs” to me, but it means “I tell stories…” a fact I learned in embarrassing fashion during high school Spanish class.
There’s another issue they didn’t mention: the arguer. Have you ever met someone who likes to argue? I don’t mean someone who enjoys a healthy discussion on occasion… I mean someone who likes to argue so much that if you decide to agree with them, they’ll switch what side they’re on and keep arguing.
During an “Evangelism Basics” course I took several years ago, we were taught that providing someone a logical argument is often far less effective than telling them a story. Then we learned how to draft our testimonies and practiced sharing them with one another. The hope was to give us confidence in sharing our stories with others, so that when opportunities presented themselves, we were ready to share. I think it was an important skill to learn; Jurie would say, “No person with an experience is at the mercy of an argument.”
Karin’s approach was a little different. She mentioned the quote by Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” The emphasis here is on hearing the other person’s story and perspective. It reminded me of our first sermon in the Connecting the Dots series, where Jurie said, “You can’t hate someone once you understand them.”
How do we understand one another when we don’t even agree on the basis for truth? When we don’t even use the same words to mean the same things? When we’re trying to converse and they’re trying to argue?
Sometimes I think our culture is addicted to competition… and we can turn anything into a competition. Finish your steak first? You win at steak (Scrubs, Season 1, Episode 20). Clock more billable hours at work? You win at charge-time. Enroll your kid in more activities? You win at “most well-rounded (and stressed out) kid.”
Our conversations often display this tendency, too. I’m a Republocrat, and I know you’re a Demmican… let’s duke it out. I’m vax, you’re anti-vax… put ‘em up. I’m Christian, you’re atheist… it’s a throw-down. Since when is the honorable thing in conversation to “win”?
When He was on earth Jesus said and did some of the most divisive and controversial things that had ever been said and done. He also, if you believe the Gospels, had God’s own knowledge of life, the universe, and everything… and it wasn’t “42,” for you Hitchhikers out there. Yet He didn’t use His knowledge and understanding as a weapon with which to beat up the misguided people around Him. I think Jesus had one of the most intriguing conversation styles I’ve ever seen or heard of.
How did Jesus interact with people? He told stories, and He asked questions. I’ve seen one estimate that Jesus asked 307 questions in the Gospels. When a person sought to challenge Him, He asked them a question first, then went on to address the answer He knew they’d given in their hearts:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”Matthew 12:1-8, NIV
We don’t have the benefit of knowing what people are thinking, the way Jesus did. We must wait for people’s answers. Hopefully, too, the way people respond to our conversations doesn’t include murder. Still, though, I think we have a lot to learn from Jesus’ “questions first” way of holding conversations.
When you ask someone a question, they have to explore their own hearts, histories, and perspectives to find an answer. In general, people enjoy talking about themselves, too. It’s amazing how great a conversationalist you appear when you just ask people questions and listen to their stories. Have you ever heard the quote, “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”? It’s variously attributed to Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln, and others, but it’s actually straight out of the Bible:
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,Proverbs 17:28, NIV
and discerning if they hold their tongues.
Asking questions and genuinely seeking answers is a way of showing people that you care about them – who they are, why they are the way they are, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going. When I was teaching, our administrators often told us, “The students won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
I admit that I’m terrible at this sometimes. I have a LOT of stories to tell, and once I get the microphone, I don’t want to give it back. I’m still learning. Others are the opposite – even if you ask them a question, they turn it around so that you end the conversation knowing as little about them as you did when you began. Still others will try to turn everything into a debate, like we discussed before. But if your sincerest goal is to get to know the person you’re talking with, you listen attentively to what they say, and you do not engage in their attempts at competition, you might find that your relationship gets stronger. Eventually, you’ll have a chance to tell them what you believe and why, but by that time, they know you care about them and aren’t trying to beat them into the ground.
We’re about to enter the time of year when we encounter people we’re closest to, yet farthest from, relationally. We’re walking into “taboo topic” days – never discuss religion or politics at the dinner table! But as Christians, Jesus is our everything, so it’s hard to avoid mentioning Him. As Americans, just about everything has become political, so that’s hard to avoid too. I’d love to hear from you in January. Try just asking questions, listening attentively, and telling your story or your side only when asked. Try to understand, rather to debate, across this season. See what happens, and let me know!
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