This past Sunday, I challenged our church to look for ways to connect with those who hold a position we disagree with. We may hold a true or better position or belief (or we might not), but Jesus is passionate and clear that we seek unity with those who follow Jesus, even when we disagree. Read John 17:11, 20-23. And if you missed my message, I encourage you to watch it here.
If we indeed value the unity that Jesus prayed for, we still face the hard reality of connecting in a healthy way when we don’t share a position with someone. The key is to respond carefully. There’s a world of difference between reacting and responding.
I challenged everyone on Sunday to first do this. I got this from somewhere but can’t remember the source:
Pause before you post.
Think before you talk.
Relax before you respond.
These are critical seconds before you respond. The pause and reflection won’t fix anything automatically. During the pause and reflection, we ask ourselves this question that has been so helpful to me – “What story am I telling myself about what I heard or experienced?” Often it’s my stuff that makes me hear things that were not really said or intended. I can easily misread someone or even the position they hold.
Then we need to determine our goal. Is the goal to be right and prove it, or is it to make a healthy connection? What’s crazy is we fall into either/or thinking. You can be right, and you can make a connection! You can be wrong and make a connection. For Jesus, being right isn’t the only right thing. The connection is also important. Here’s how I’ve learned to respond when my goal is a healthy connection:
You might have seen the famous sign hung in many homes – Live, Love, Laugh. I’ve changed those words to Listen, Learn, Love. As we pause, reflect, and determine the goal of unity is just as important as trying to persuade someone to our point of view, then the next step is to really listen. When we listen, we put our agenda aside for the moment and give our full attention to the person we are listening to.
Then, we seek to learn. We ask questions. Not questions with an edge, but questions seeking to learn. The questions might be like these: “Why is your position so important to you?” “How did you come to that position?” “How does that position make things better for you or others?” And really listen. What often happens when I do that is that I begin to hear the person’s story. And often, the whole discussion changes from the issue or position to other matters of the person’s life.
You still might not agree with the person or their position, but having listened and learned (acts of love), you can then identify ways you can love them. Love seeks the best for the person. Love is a choice. Love is an action. What can you do (actions or words) that would serve the person you are having a discussion with?
Try it! Go to someone you’ve had a disagreement with and say, “I know we’ve disagreed in the past. I’d like to really listen to you and learn more about your position.” While you’re listening and learning, pray for ways you can love the person. After all, Jesus said it all boils down to this – love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s more important than being right and winning the argument. Listen. Learn. Love.