We get to listen to one another, but before we can listen effectively, we should examine if anything is getting in the way of our ability, desire, and/or decision to do so.
As I ponder on the many conversations I have initiated and participated in, I have found these principles to be essential in being a better listener. As we grow as the body of Christ paying attention to these things can eliminate a great deal of church hurt, misunderstandings, and broken relationships.
Stop condemning others, especially our youth or people who think differently than we do. It’s critical that we first realize and accept that where we are today is not where we were 3, 5, 10 years or more ago. Didn’t we make “dumb” or completely irresponsible decisions - and sometimes on purpose! As adults we sometimes forget that our wisdom was birthed from God giving us His Grace through many mistakes, hardships, heartbreak, and losses. It’s not because we had it all together, had the right people in position to assist us, or knew exactly what to do in crisis. We fell short, learned some lessons, and if we are being honest, we fell quite often or enough to notice that we had some changes to make if we were going to walk with a clear conscience. It’s understandable that we are concerned about the health, wellness, safety, and whereabouts of our beloved. However, when we allow fear to guide our instruction and our feedback or we are trying everything in our power to intervene and avoid our loved one from repeating our mistakes or doing even worse than we have done, an urgency to take control over people and situations develop.
We try to take control in areas where our wise counsel would suffice, and it often leaves our loved ones feeling unseen, unheard, unloved, misunderstood, angry, desperately seeking to get away, and so on. We push people away when we characterize them based on where they’ve been instead of walking with them in love to where they’re going. As my brother said to me when I was young, ”Sis, if someone cannot accept you for who you are and where you’ve been, they can’t go handle where you’re going.” God can use anything and anyone. None of us are damaged goods.
“Brothers and Sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things-and the things that are not-to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.” 1 Cor 1:26-29
There is a difference between influence and control. Sometimes we will even choose the perception of control over the reality that having a deep, loving, give-receive relationship is far more rewarding because control feels safer than being vulnerable. Too many of us have been hurt while being vulnerable so we take vulnerability off the table as if vulnerability in itself was the issue rather than looking at our knowledge or lack thereof, fears, desires, circle of trust, overall decision making, etc. Rather it’s friendship, courtship, marriage, etc. when we are dealing with people, we will inevitably run into hurt feelings, disappointment, and unfortunately, some of us may experience intentional harm by the hands of those we love. It is to be understood that all relationships are risky but vulnerability without the foundations of love, trust, friendship, and commitment is beyond risky! It’s a recipe for suffering and brokenness. In other words, vulnerability does not stand alone, it must be a part of “the whole plan”. Our young people can’t gain the wisdom from our instruction if we are not vulnerable enough to expose the lessons we learned from our trials and tribulations. There is freedom in moving beyond where we’ve already been. Our past is evidence that God is not done with us yet!
Who we listen to shapes how, when, and why we make our decisions. We must consider if the people around us are inviting us to engage in a closer relationship with the Lord or leading us away from Him to be dependent on them. If we are the wisest person in our circle, we have outgrown it and get to be filled and stretched by those whose wisdom is reflected in the fruit they bear. We are all held accountable to imitate Christ and produce the Fruit of the Spirit regardless of our age. Wise Counsel can be from a babe or a boomer but if we are not willing to listen, we will only hear ourselves. The aim is to hear, feel, see, and sense what the Holy Spirit is guiding us to do. There is a time to be right/accurate but if being right costs us, our most precious relationships and it severs our influence with others, the question is no longer “is it right?” the question becomes, “Is it wise?”. It’s better to be wise than to be right. As followers of Christ, we believe in the power of reconciliation. Who do we need to go back and listen to? Who do we get to ask for forgiveness because we didn’t listen? Whose forgiveness do we get to receive because they didn’t listen?
“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Proverbs 19:20