I was sitting in a Bible study, biting my lip so hard I thought it would bleed. We were a group of fifteen women, discussing an incredibly controversial topic, and I could already feel the frustration rising in my chest. Not only did I disagree with the other women in the room, but my emotions were all over the place. I was starting to feel like a mess inside. You know that feeling you get when you start to grit your teeth, your eyebrows burrow, and you’re about to burst if you don’t say something?
My Enneagram 1 mind was racing with questions: Why do these women think this way? This idea is so wrong. Haven’t they ever read [insert three other Bible passages]? I was already crafting rebuttals in my head when I realized I needed to just stop. Perhaps I looked calm on the outside, but there was an out-of-control train raging on the inside, and it was time to take a deep breath and listen. I hadn’t even considered why these women thought the way they did or whether there was truth I could learn from them. And that was my problem, not theirs.
I’ve been learning lately about the power of silence. It’s only when we quiet ourselves that we can begin to hear others. Discussions in church, at a Bible study, or even on social media shouldn’t be about how much knowledge I have or if I can sound the smartest. Rather, my posture should be to make myself small in order to care about what the other person has to say, to understand where they’re coming from, and to engage them where they’re at. This is not about just letting my anger build up and then fuming about it later.
Learning to listen and even ask questions is about humanizing people. It’s about showing them their value as image bearers and treating them with respect instead of trying to crush their argument. I grew up in conservative Christian circles where I was trained to win arguments, and I see now the damage that this approach inflicts. Looking down on someone else’s ideas or thinking less of them for the way they’ve expressed themselves only perpetuates hurt and further divides.
Speaking of division, we as Christians are nothing if not divided, am I right? We live in a society of tightly constructed binaries, and everyone is either right or wrong, praised or condemned. We all have our categories. We’re either majority or minority, white or people of color (POC), Republican or Democrat, progressive or conservative, complementarian or egalitarian, woke or culturally ignorant. Our tendency is to marginalize and even demonize any voice other than our own. But you and I will never have robust theological minds and hearts if we can’t listen to each other and at the very least consider why the other person thinks the way they do.
In the gospels, we see Jesus continually challenge His disciples to stop fighting among themselves. In Mark 9, for example, the disciples are argue over who is the greatest, and Jesus inserts Himself into their petty quarrel in order to redirect the conversation. He sits them down and says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In saying this, Jesus shows them how each of them is wrong. First, they’re wrong because they want to be great in the world’s eyes, and this is antithetical to the kingdom of God. And second, they’re wrong because they’re trying to one up their fellow brother. Jesus challenges them to remove terms like winning and “the greatest” from their vocabulary and to instead value humility by putting the other’s interests above their own.
This is Jesus’ response to disunity among believers: He meets us in the midst of uncomfortable situations and challenges us to find ways to create forbearance on tough issues we disagree on. The goal is not to win the debate or to even see a conversation as a debate in the first place. Rather, we need to sit in and dwell over different views. We need to cling to Christ by honoring what another person has shared. As a friend once told me, I don’t necessarily have to agree with someone else’s viewpoint, but I still need to find a way to delight in them as a person. I need to understand where they’re coming from, why they believe what they do, and show them that I love them simply because they are made in the image of God.
If I truly want to embody the peace of Christ, I need to listen more, embrace more, and speak less. When I feel anger rising or my body cringing in visceral response to theological statements I disagree with, I need to first stop and listen. I owe it to my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to take a deep breath and hear what they have to say. Instead of asking myself who is right, I need to consider what the way of Christ is. It is quite possible that both myself and the person I’m in dialogue with are wrong. In fact, I know there is still so much I have to learn and grow in, and this is why humility and seeking peace, not victory, should always be the aim. In every uncomfortable conversation, I must find Christ, cling to Him, and continually consider better paths forward.
You and I will never have robust theological minds and hearts if we can’t listen to each other and at the very least consider why the other person thinks the way they do. -Michelle Reyes (@dr_reyes2): Click To Tweet