I found myself a part of a fiery conversation one night while visiting relatives. One of my family members and I often find ourselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum. While we both come from a similar place in terms of our devotion to our Christian faith, we disagree on pretty much everything else. In an effort to keep the peace, we successfully avoided controversial subjects for the majority of the visit.
Emphasis on “majority.”
The last night, things finally got heated. For whatever reason, both of us felt strongly and we were unwilling to let it go this time. It soon became clear that neither of us had any interest in hearing the other person’s opinion. We were both completely focused on defending our own point of view and proving how “right” we were and how “wrong” the other person was. There was little, if any, real listening going on. By the end of the evening, nothing had been accomplished but hurt feelings.
So why would I share this lovely moment, this perfect example of how not to behave when visiting family?
Because I suspect I am not the only one who has found myself in such circumstances in recent months.
As I mentioned before, this particular person and I share something very important. This family member, whom I love dearly, is also my brother in Christ. I have personally been witness to the working of the Holy Spirit in his life, and I would hope he would say the same about me. Through that common core identity, the values which we share should, in a perfect world, override those areas where we disagree. Yet, the areas where we disagree are the very issues that we both believe are impacted by our relationship with Jesus. More simply, whose we are plays a very important part in who we are and what we believe.
So, if the same Spirit resides in both of us, if the same God reveals his truth to all believers, if we are all reading the same Word of God, then why do we disagree on so many things? What kind of pride, what kind of arrogance does it take to assume your truth is truer than your brother or sister’s truth? We are called to unity, but shouldn’t we stand up for what we strongly believe in? But, if truth is true, then someone has to be wrong, right?
I know I don’t have any simple answers to the questions I pose above. I left our conversation feeling just as strongly about the issues we discussed and, truthfully, just as convinced I was right. However, while I am convinced there is a time and a place to stand up for our convictions, I’m equally as certain that there is a better way to do it.
Here are three things that I learned (or perhaps remembered) from this experience:
Invite God into the conversation.
First of all, I did not invite God to join me in our conversation that night. If I had prayed while others were speaking, instead of hurriedly trying to formulate my next response, things might have gone differently. I operated completely in my own power and pursued my own agenda, even though I know that what I have to say is much more meaningful when I get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to guide my heart, my mind and my tongue. I learned a long time ago to ask the Holy Spirit to inhabit the driver’s seat when I am involved in conflict. In the heat of this particular moment, I neglected to center myself in that place of safety.
Listen. Really listen.
Secondly, I did not really listen. If I had been more concerned with really listening, truly hearing the emotion behind the argument, I might have left with a better understanding of why the others felt the way they did, even if I still didn’t agree. I know real listening means setting aside my agenda and intentionally trying to place myself in the other person’s shoes. As often happens in discussions where there are strong feelings involved, I was too busy formulating my own responses to thoughtfully listen to what anyone else was saying. My goals were not to exchange ideas and learn from others, but to prove that my opinion was correct. In hindsight, that is not the kind of relationship that I want to have with others and not the kind of person I want to be.
Speak the truth in love.
Lastly, I did not find the proper balance recommended in Ephesians 4:15:
“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”
Speak the truth in love. Yes, I felt compelled to speak what I believed to be truth, something I would do again in similar circumstances, but I neglected to speak only out of love. Because of that omission, I said things that caused hurt feelings. I said things in ways that caused more separation, instead of the unity that Christ desires for his people. Jesus never backed away from speaking the truth, but he set an example for us by always doing so in love and by choosing his battles wisely.
With all the difficult issues facing our country and the church, I know I need to continually remind myself how to disagree with respect and love. Inviting God into our conversations, intentionally and thoughtfully listening to one another and speaking the truth in love allows us to honor one another, even when we disagree about important issues.
Let’s not settle for less.
Originally published on www.kellyjohnsongracenotes.com.