Learning To Listen
When we encounter disagreements with others, let's first examine ourselves for any change that may be needed. After that, let's lean on the Holy Spirit because He will help us communicate or respond in a manner that is pleasing to God—and others!
Every morning I can, I go on a walk with my dog, Tucker, and my now seven-month-old son, Brayden. It is always a bit of a juggling act holding onto Tucker’s leash while pushing Brayden in the stroller, but I manage.
I must admit, when I walk Tucker, I am guilty of letting him run all over everyone’s lawns. We tried to train him to walk by our side when he was young, but never stuck with the training.
I have my own reasoning for this: Tucker is in the house with me most of the day, and I want to make the most of his time outside. He gets twice as much of a workout if I let him run around versus making him walk by my side. Yes, it’s a slightly selfish reason, but I never really considered that anyone would care about my dog and where he walked.
Then, after years of walking through an adjoining neighborhood, one day a lady eyed me in an odd way as "the boys" and I approached her house. “Goodness, what’s wrong with her?” I thought.
She stopped staring when she reached her mailbox, but her glaring resumed as she turned around and walked back to her house. I was still passing her yard when she snapped at me, “Don’t let your dog pee in my yard!”
I could immediately tell that she fully expected me to snap back at her. She was annoyed, her defenses were up, and she was ready to stand her ground at all costs. The funny thing was, I wasn’t going to fight back. I had no reason to. She merely had a request that was within my power to grant; in fact, she was probably representing other homeowners without realizing it.
I replied. “Oh okay.”
She continued, “I wouldn’t do it to you!”
I responded, “Well, I wouldn’t mind, but it’s okay, I appreciate you letting me know.”
She snipped again, “Well, it’s just not right.”
We continued back and forth for a moment, but only because she was trying to convince me of something she thought I’d be mad about—but I wasn’t. Finally, she seemed to get the hint that I wasn’t going to get mad, and I actually was going to listen to her request. I thanked her again for letting me know her preference, and she said, “You’re welcome.”
Her fuse had gone out, and I walked down the street with a newfound knowledge of dog-walking etiquette. This incident made me realize that people do care about where my dog walks; therefore, we just might have to revisit that training issue again...or at least keep Tucker by my side on all future walks. (:
The Unexpected Answer
Looking back, I realize this situation could have turned ugly. Thankfully, during the conversation, the Holy Spirit was quick to remind me of what Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath....” I kept that rolling around in my head while talking to her so I could focus on keeping calm and not coming up with an excuse for my actions.
I’ve realized, though, that the phrase “a soft answer” isn’t solely about keeping your voice calm when you reply. That is important, but if that was the sole meaning of the verse, it would have given me liberty to have quietly and calmly told this lady, “Thanks, but no, thanks. I’m going to do what I want. It’s a free country.” But a reply like that would not only disregard my mistake (allowing Tucker to run all around) but also it would have obviously provoked the argument she was looking for.
In this case, the soft answer the lady needed was the unexpected one: the one where I didn’t defend my actions, but accepted her request without arguing.
Avoiding The Social Norm
Arguing, becoming defensive, and voicing personal opinions have all become normal in today's society thanks to the social media platforms available to everyone. People don't think twice about spouting off their opinions without a filter, but opinions—even good ones—are not always the best way to communicate or respond.
Sometimes the best answer is to respond with empathy by saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way” or “I’m sorry this is happening to you.” Other times we may need to accept responsibility and realize our actions may have affected others and simply say, “I’m sorry.”
I’ve had plenty of times where people come up to me and start ranting about a difficult situation they are in. My tendency is to help them solve the problem they are facing. Because I have grown up in church, I have a lot of Bible-based answers I could rattle off (without any real investment of concern or care on my part) to get them on the right track...but just because my answer has a Bible verse in it doesn’t make it right.
Sometimes people simply need to know that you care about their ordeal and what they are going through more than your potential solution.
At times, you will—and should—express your thoughts, but when the other person is emotionally invested and potentially on the edge of anger, the best "soft answer” may be just showing that you care.
I am very grateful that the Holy Spirit can help us through times such as these. He used this incident to help me realize I need to change how I walk my dog to avoid similar confrontations in the future. He also reminded me to stay calm while listening to this frustrated lady talk about Tucker. Other times, the Holy Spirit tells me, “Stay silent; don’t respond" or “Speak up. It’s a good time to say that.”
I don’t always get it right, but as long as the Holy Spirit is by my side, He’ll help me keep my answers exactly what He wants them to be.
Listening: Showing People You Care
I trust that you have been filled with a lot of Bible knowledge from your personal study of the Word, from the articles and videos on cfaith, and from the weekly messages at your local church. Therefore lean on the Holy Spirit so you will know how to act on the Word in your heart. He’ll help you know when to do or say something...or when to simply remain silent and let the other person know that you care.
I encourage you to avoid perpetuating your own opinions for the sake of being heard and instead listen and respond to the Holy Spirit—and to the people around you. After all, life is best when we listen and are led by a loving God. (:
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Until next month, let's listen and learn from HIM in all that we do!
editor, contributing writer