Communication lessons often focus on listening. It seems that the older we get, the more we want to broadcast our opinions, experiences and certainties. Listening appears to be a difficult or complicated skill for people in our time. I remember that Jan van der Linden ( who I wrote about here before ) asked the question as a teacher at the Bible school: ‘How can you learn to listen better instead of talking yourself?’ The answer was: ‘By asking more questions!’ After which Jan asked: ‘And what kind of people ask a lot of questions?’ Children! You hear them do it: ‘Why is that? What’s that called? Where are you going then?’ Sometimes they ask you questions. Children want to discover, know and understand.
Could it be that we want to discover or understand less and less? And that we mainly seek our support in our knowledge, our insights and our rightness? Being right gives you a feeling of victory and that feeling is almost addictive.
Have you ever shouted, ‘I told you so’ or ‘You see, I was right’, after something has gone wrong with someone else. Precisely at the moment when the other person has gone wrong, we would like to confirm our triumph instead of showing compassion or offering a solution. We really want to win or just be better than the other person.
I struggle with this too. When a team member reports on a meeting where something special happened, I tend to add something because ‘I know better’ or ‘I can explain it more forcefully’. Martin, just listen and enjoy the other person!
The kingdom of God is not about being right or wrong, but always about love and love. If it were about being right, then God was right and we were not. And then all would have been lost, but thankfully God so loved the world!!
‘Love is patient and full of goodness. Love knows no envy, no vain display and no self-righteousness. She is not rude, nor selfish, nor is she provoked to anger, nor holds evil to account” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). Don’t be complacent with your own beliefs, but allow others to have their opinion. That is love! No vain display of your certainties or opinions, but don’t get angry and just listen. That is love. This is how God is and through the work of the Holy Spirit we can grow in this.
Last week I listened to the Incredible Podcast led by Journalist David Boogerd. He spoke with historian and radicalization expert Beatrice de Graaf and theologian Stefan Paas. Although the theme mainly focused on ‘The Great Reset, the end times, anti-vaxers and conspiracy thinking’, Beatrice suddenly decided to ‘just keep your mouth shut’. She made a strong case for why it is sometimes good to suppress your emotions and not say anything for a while.
Although it is good that people learn to give space to their emotions, I endorse Beatrice’s call. Why do we always have to say everything we find? Why is it that we so often seek discussion? Especially during this time!
Possessed or addicted?
Perhaps the problem of endless discussions is not only in our generation. Jesus also encountered this in his time. He says: ‘When John came and did not eat or drink, they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ Now the Son of Man has come, eating and drinking, and now people say, “Look, what a glutton, what a drunkard, the friend of publicans and sinners” (Matthew 11:18-19).
Either you eat too little or you eat too much. Either you are possessed or you are addicted. People always find something and have to communicate it if necessary. And so heated discussions, divisions, quarrels and even complete estrangement arise. Love grows cold and distance grows.
Our message to this world is not that we are right. That only creates distance and condemnation. The story of Jesus is precisely the living out of God’s love. Sometimes just shut up and love the other person. Or as Paul says: ‘Do not act out of selfishness or conceit, but in all modesty consider others more important than yourself’ (Philippians 2:3). Because‘by your love for each other everyone will see that you are my students’ (John 13:35).
As followers of Jesus, let us be representatives of love, especially in these exciting, unclear and sometimes difficult times. Sometimes just keep your mouth shut and stay close to the other person despite his/her opinions. That is where love starts to work and God’s goodness becomes manifest.