Let your body language say, “Tell me more…”
It’s not a secret that our culture has lost the art of listening to others. The motivation to have conversation & debate is sometimes fueled by the offense I have taken with your perspective. Now I need to defend my position and (supposedly) my God. So we get antsy, defensive, and in our heads we are thinking of the next line, rebuttal, or witty phrase to hold our own. This posture makes it impossible for either side to learn, grow, and be humble.
When I'm so busy thinking about my defensive response, I don’t have the capacity to feel the pain of your story or appreciate the uniqueness of how God has worked in you thus far in your journey. That’s what empathy is and it’s part of what makes us human. It’s the difference between leaving feeling heard or walking away feeling ignored. Having been the counselor and the counselee, I can say with confidence that there is absolutely nothing more therapeutic and healing than sitting with another human being who reflects and projects genuine concern, care, & empathy in the face of the most dehumanizing events of one’s story. It’s the ministry of presence and you can’t be present without listening well.
We often feel the pressure to “tell the truth” to people. We see it as bold and courageous. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it’s cowardice. I witness many who have the capacity to explain what scripture says but lack the courage to enter into a tangled mess of a story where they don’t have all the answers, don’t know the next step to take, and can’t face the reality that life is unpredictable and the journey is treacherous. It’s scary when people’s lived experiences challenge our paradigms and belief systems. That can’t stop me from being brave enough to enter into the lives of others. That courage helps me put the verses about moral behavior to the side (not get rid of them) and embody the many other verses that describe the life giving ministry of presence that Jesus modeled. And if I can’t or won’t do that, then I have no business or right to share the sexual ethic I believe in, no matter how Godly it is.
What does listening well look like? Well, it looks like eye contact & leaning in. It sounds like empathy and curious questions that allow them to tell you more, and it feels like safety & trust that you’re not looking for the right moment to insert a verse or find a hole in their story. It’s being interested in what it was like for them to walk this road so far, sometimes with no support and a lot of questions that haven’t been answered yet.
When we listen well, we see walls begin to tumble and defenses soften. It tills the ground of a human heart and makes it ready for the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. It’s then that I often realize that all of those things have happened in my heart as well. My heart is stirred and my capacity to love another image bearer is deepened. I don’t change my theology, but I do respect & honor them more. They become more human and less of an “issue”, and I start to see remnants of shared humanity where they are no longer “they” but “we”.
This blog is one in a series of 30+ tips for relational effectiveness with LGBT people. Find the condensed list HERE. These relational tips are from a handout acquired from “Lead Them Home”, a Boston based ministry that equips the church on LGBT issues. These blogs have been expounded upon with permission.
These tips, along with numerous other insights, are found in an excellent resource called “Guiding Families” available HERE.