I hold to a pretty radical belief. I believe relationships can change the world and selfless, meaningful, healthy conversations can change relationships. And I believe the opposite to be true, as well. Relationships can destroy the world and selfish, empty, unhealthy conversations can damage relationships.
We live in a time when relationships are often built upon transactional, self-serving motives. And when so many conversations take place online or via electronic devices -- giving a false impression of community and relational fortitude -- our commitment to being thoughtful about such things should be flourishing and not dwindling.
Our cultural vehicles of conversation are computers and phones powered by data plans and wifi. Using these, it is easy for conversations to be merely talking void of listening. We have the power to share our opinions without recognition of the impact (negative or positive) we have made on the person staring back at their own screen. This reality is creating a generation of advocates who care deeply about causes, yet who are not necessarily being taught to listen deeply to the hearts of others. I say this as one overcoming that generational hurdle myself.
Navigating an increasingly polarized society in our country has proven messy for the church. Overly politicized and commercialized issues are the drivers for our forums, even for Christians, heightening the danger of neglected relationships. And, therefore, perpetuating intrinsic systemic issues in our culture.
But what if our power structures and communities were renewed by the example of the Trinity, where mutuality and communion bind individuals together? What would change about our neighborhoods, boardrooms, city halls, and churches? What would change about our social, economic, political, and family systems?
My challenge to you would be to talk less and listen more. But not just more, to listen deeper. Hear people and empathize with them regardless of race or ethnicity, political party, faith, sexual orientation, or geography; essentially, listen across difference. But also listen more deeply to the Spirit and respond to people from a place of holy saturation in God’s word and calling on your life. If we all spoke and typed from that space, we might second guess a Facebook post, text message, or flippant remark.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21).
Words have power. And we should treat them as such. We should be more thoughtful about our own words and more respectful of others’. And we should pray for moments like Jeremiah’s encounter with God where He reached out and touched Jeremiah’s lips -- putting His words in Jeremiah’s mouth. Oh, to be filled with the words of the Lord!
The relationships we build this side of heaven matter, and they matter eternally. So, the work we put into them should be diligent and constant. And what we are willing to sacrifice for them should be great.
In addition to the challenge to merely listen more deeply, I also have a few favorite resources that I would like to share:
Good Neighbor – Co-developed by Texas Baptists and The Impact Guild, The Good Neighbor field guide was designed to be a resource for those who want to take a deeper dive into their neighborhood and community – to know the people who live there and actively engage the challenges and opportunities in their community. Learn more about our annual cohorts by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One Another Project – An initiative by Christian Unity Ministries, the One Another Project is all about strengthening relationships through programs designed around critical dialogues based on biblical principles. To learn how to join or be part, go to: www.oneanotherproject.com.
Fearless Dialogues – Started by Dr. Gregory Ellison, this resource creates unique spaces for unlikely partners to engage in hard, heartfelt conversations that see gifts in others, hear value in stories, and work for change and positive transformation in self and others. Learn more at: www.fearlessdialogues.com.
For you, what would change if the relationships in your life were whole and full of hospitality and generosity? How different would your days look and feel if the conversations you shared with others were a genuinely shared communion with one another? I hope you will think deeply about how and with whom you share your life, thoughts, and words with others. It matters.