The recent revelations of unmarked graves discovered at former residential schools in Canada has given rise to some important questions for us as individuals and for the Church. As we continue to grapple with how to address what has happened and the trauma it has caused, the feelings of anger, frustration, and grief; and how it has profoundly affected people, especially our First Nations neighbours, we are challenged to consider how we as believers should respond.
At times, relationships with our neighbours and even those closest to us, can be difficult as we navigate differences of opinion, belief, culture and understanding. And we ask the questions, how do we respond when we face these difficult discussions and how can we work towards building healthy relationships?
I would like to make one suggestion here today. One of the first ways we can respond is to listen well. Listening well is an important step on the path to forgiveness.
Listening to others as they tell their story may seem straight forward and simple, yet we often struggle to listen well. Sometimes, as people tell us of their experience, we are reminded of our own experiences and we shift the focus of the conversation and begin to tell them about what happened to us. At other times, we are quick to try to give advice and to help others solve their problem instead of simply allowing them to share what is going on in their life and how it has affected them. And often, we allow ourselves to be distracted by our own thoughts and concerns to the point where we do not give our full attention. As we do these things, we miss the story and we miss our opportunity to learn and to understand what is really going on in the others person’s life – and so we fail to listen well. The writer of proverbs tells us “To answer before listening - that is folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)
The ability and willingness to listen well is a key component of any relationship and is a vital tool for building healthy relationships. Listening well is part of building trust. Listening well is part of learning. Listening well is an important step on the path to forgiveness. Listening well helps to build true understanding.
Now we may find it easier to listen to someone when they share a success story or when they tell us about something exciting, but when people share their struggles with us it becomes more difficult. It’s not easy to listen when someone reveals their hurt or their pain; and it can be especially difficult when we hear someone share how our behaviors or our words have hurt them in some way. In reality, we would often rather tell our own stories than listen to someone else.
Yet, there immense value in being a good listener. As followers of Jesus, we are challenged to be good listeners. In James 1:19 we read, “... Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...” It sounds simple enough, but learning to listen well takes time, it takes patience and it requires intentionality.
When we listen well, we truly seek to learn and to understand. We ask not only for the facts, but also seek to learn about how those events and experiences have affected the person we are listening to. We ask for clarification when we need it and yet we learn to live with some unknowns, recognizing that it takes time to come to understand someone fully.
When we seek to listen and to understand someone else, we begin to open the door to true relationship. It might take time and it will take effort but as we listen to one another we begin to build the foundational structure that is needed to sustain a healthy relationship.
The Apostle Paul challenges us in Philippians 2: 3 - 4 to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” For Christians, when we listen well, we tell others that they have value to us, ultimately reflecting our call to see others with the eyes of Jesus who placed such value on us that he died for us while we were still sinners.
As we seek ways to engage our neighbours over the next while, let us begin the conversation by approaching it with humble and open hearts, committing ourselves to learning and listening well, so we might better understand how to respond in a way that truly reflects the love of Christ.
This article was originally published in the EMMC Recorder, Vol 58, no 4