As I get older and grow in my faith, I see my sensitivity growing a little bit more each day. Dogmatism is something that I have fought since I was in college. While there are certainly times when dogmatism may be warranted, it’s such a dangerous thing to enter into relationships with others, especially those who might disagree with our worldview and ideology. Over time, I have learned that it’s incredibly important to step back from a situation to objectively (as much as is possible) assess that situation.
One of the first times that I noticed this need was right after college. I was hanging out with some friends that I had met through a church group and there was one guy who had a tendency to be a little unhinged at times. He was a little wild, a little renegade, and it made some people uncomfortable. Some of my friends were quick to write him off, but inside of me, there was a nagging feeling that there was a lot more to this guy than what I could see on the surface.
As I engaged in some deeper conversations with this guy, I could see some of his past hurt coming out. It seemed to me that some of the actions that people were critical of were a result of some of that past hurt, but nobody had really dug deep enough to discover that. I was humbled and ashamed that I had started to write the guy off just like everyone else. I secretly vowed that I would do my best to take a step back as often as necessary to do my best to understand people.
Years later, I am certainly not perfect at it. I probably fail to do it as often as I succeed, but I’m trying. My wife has the gift of empathy, which I actually told her the other day to let go of when dealing with a specific situation. But she can probably tell me more often than not that I need to embrace a little bit more empathy.
Everyone has a story and it’s rare that those stories don’t impact the way people act and react in life situations. I can’t tell you the number of times that I encountered a strong reaction from someone that was tied to some life situation that the person was in the midst of or had just encountered. The wisdom comes in taking that step back to be able to ask the right questions. When I’ve done it, I’ve not been disappointed. Those stories frame the reaction and help me to better understand that a person doesn’t have it out for me and that they aren’t trying to disrespect me, they just have a lot going on in their life and they need help and support to guide and lead them through it.
Like I said, this is not an easy thing, at least it hasn’t been easy for me. I am always hungry for action and it can get me into trouble at times. The need to stop, ask, listen, and assess is so prevalent because most people just don’t air their feelings out. There is an irony in the fact that in an attempt to hide feelings, people actually begin to allow those feelings to guide and direct the way they act, often unintentionally.
A friend has reminded me many times that all of us who preach basically have one sermon that we will preach our entire lives. There is one thing that we are passionate about that will come through in every sermon, every conversation, and every blog post in our lives. Mine is about relationships and the need for them in our lives. When people know who we are and know what’s going on in our lives, they’re so much more apt to extend grace to us. If we choose to live shallowly throughout all of our relationships in life, we shouldn’t be surprised when people take us at face value every time. While face value can be a good and safe way to live, it rarely tells us the truth about people.
Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.” I have seen this play out over and over again. May we live as people of understanding, being willing to dig deeper below the surface to see the purposes of those with whom we are in relationship. It’s not always easy and safe, but the results are priceless.