I could feel the heat spreading to my face and neck as perspiration began to prick at my skin. I exhaled slowly and shakily through my mouth…I hadn’t even realized that I was holding my breath until now…it’s funny how I catch myself holding my breath as a way to brace against possible impact…possible pain. And, as I felt the wet sting in my eyes, I waited…I waited to see what they were going to do with what I had just shared with them. See, as I am prone to do, I was questioning something that had been accepted as a truth…a rule…and I had unwittingly invited them into the uncomfortable wrestling with God that I do regularly. I was showing, through my own experience, that while we love to see things as black or white…there are gray tones that we have to deal with…there are shades that are neither black nor white…shades that exist and challenge the tidy equations that we try apply to life. And to my great relief, most of them entered into the wrestling match with me. Once invited, they chose to step away from the comfortable conclusions…outside of the neatly-drawn lines…and into a place where things are a bit messy…and require more work…more effort to understand. They willingly stepped out into an uncomfortable and unknown place with me…and while they can not see from my perspective…they wanted to understand…and that meant EVERYTHING…meant the whole world to me.
Why am I telling you about this and why the heck am I being so vague about the content of this conversation? Glad you asked! This experience…these feelings…can be applied to other people and situations and I don’t want to bog you down with my specific situation and experiences. What I do want to point out is what was done well and why it matters:
First, my friends did not know about a specific aspect of my background in this conversation…and they could not ever know about it unless I shared it with them. So, as difficult as it was to verbalize…as bumbling and lacking in eloquence as I am…as painful as it was to reveal my brokenness…in order to be the kind of friends that go deep, I had to let them in on my experience and perspective. So, speaking up (gently) when you need someone to understand you or your experience is important.
The other big thing that was done well was that my friends were willing to be inconvenienced for me. They were willing to enter into the messiness that accompanies investing in someone else. Because they care about me, they allowed themselves to trust that I wasn’t just throwing monkey wrenches into the conversation for sport…but that I needed to be understood in a way that they couldn’t access from the place where the straight, clean lines exist or where unemotional formulas can be applied. Once trusting my motives, they allowed themselves to wrestle through different aspects of the topic and they allowed themselves to feel compassion for me. What better picture of living out a life that reflects Jesus is there than that? None! They didn’t just throw out some head-knowledge and leave me to my wrestling match…they entered in with me. They didn’t just blindly approve whatever I was saying in order to avoid making waves, they entered into the mess with both their minds and their hearts.
This stuff really matters! Not just in my situation but in most (I think.) Think about the areas of life where there is the most strife…think about racial tensions…think about political tensions…think about areas where a majority are ignorant to the plight of others…all these areas are exacerbated by applying a formula and only perpetuate the ignorance and the number of injuries incurred.
So, how are you doing with this? Do you feel understood? If you don’t, are you speaking up to the people that you crave understanding from? Is there someone that you love but that you just simply don’t get? How much are you investing in, not just mentally comprehending their situation, but also empathizing and feeling compassion. Are you communicating together with love and kindness and a willingness to hear? Really hear (not letting them speak long enough to get your chance to talk.)
My prayer today is that we would be led by truth that our heads know but also compassion that our hearts experience. I am praying that we would be drawn to those who are less like ourselves so that we may learn and increase our understanding of people instead of just understanding ideals.
Much love friends,