Mary Hairston is a mother, artist, illustrator and blogger at marydeandraws.com. She shares printable Scripture art to teach and encourage, loves reading history, teaching art to kids but not baking, ever.
"When I tried to share about how I felt as a black female in a situation, they didn't want to hear it. It is terrible not to want to listen to a sister's heart, even when it could be hard. If we can't take the first and simple step of talking, there's little hope of racial harmony in the church. If we can't listen, we can't love. But there's hope and I'm always holding onto the hope of Jesus. No one can take that away."
Trillia Newbell’s words struck me when I saw them on her Instagram post. I’m thankful for her willingness to share and hope that, in this situation, I would have listened. I think I'm a pretty good listener . . . until I'm not. It's easy to see blindness in others, but harder to see it in myself–harder still to let God's light reach my own dark parts. But that's always where he has me start (see 1 Jn 1:8-10, Matt 7:4-5).
It's hard to listen when I feel judged; when I feel threatened or when someone challenges something I hold tightly. When I can't solve something or make it better. It's hard when the conversation makes me uncomfortable or shakes my sense of rightness.
It’s hard to listen when I realize the world can look so different from another point of view. I feel in over my head. Conversations about race can make white people uncomfortable, but love for our neighbor requires us to listen. We need to develop a Christ-honoring resilience that enables us to listen well, because God commands that we do.
The Command to Listen
Through James, God commands the type of listening we need to be doing: "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (Js 1:19-20).
When we hear and listen to other human beings, we honor the image of God in them (Js 3:9). And in the church, we must remember each person we encounter is a brother or sister "for whom Christ died" (see 1 Cor 8:11). When we’re quick to listen and slow to speak, we engage our brothers and sisters with compassion.
I see so much more enmity than compassion in the church these days (including in myself). We’re quick to speak, but not quick to listen and learn.
Satan delights to divide. He’s the deceiver–the master of "fake news"–peddling the lie that we must be either-or as Christians and nowhere in the middle. His marketing campaign is booming and he deals in tents for opposing camps. He scoffs at nuance and gentleness.
But the Bible calls us to a better way: "Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand" (Phil 4:5).
How, then, can we manage our gut-level reactions when listening induces stress, fear, and anxiety?
Looking to Jesus
Our example is Jesus. He took all the anger, accusations, and hate without protest (Is 53:7, 1 Pet 2:22-23). And he did so without sin.
As Christ was secure in his position in the Father and had no need to prove himself, we can live out of that same security. We already know that Jesus died to forgive us. What accusation could anyone bring against us after that (Rom 8:33)?
Living out of our security in Christ frees us to listen and learn from one another instead of being defensive. When our confidence is in Christ alone, we can humbly, compassionately live in the truth, even when it’s a painful truth we’d rather not see (Eph 4:15).
As we put on compassion for our neighbors, we get a glimpse of the patience and graciousness of our God with us, the God who “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). For love of us, he laid aside his position of privilege and power, and his humiliation has implications for us: "By this we know what love is: Jesus laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:17).
Practical Steps Forward
This is where God is growing me, calling me to humility, teaching me patiently to push past my own initial reactions and need to prove myself (see Eph 4:1, 1 Pet 5:5, Eph 5:21).
Just listen, Mary. Learn.
Like any area of discipleship, growing in compassion, humility and love takes practice. We can cultivate Christlike friendships by listening to or following someone who will challenge our point of view. Listen to someone who looks and thinks differently than you. Read some U.S. history from an unfamiliar or uncomfortable point of view. Join a Be the Bridge group. Build conversational resilience and practice humble, compassionate listening without attempting to solve, explain away, fix, or advise.
Let's give our brothers and sisters hope by our patient listening and willingness to dialogue with and learn from them. Let's fight against being angry or defensive and instead surprise the outside world with our sincere love for one another.
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.