This is second part to the topic that I began discussing here.
My goal with this pair of posts is to encourage us to listen to each other kindly and to offer love freely, even when we have differing beliefs. Specifically, I am writing from the perspective of two people who used to share similar beliefs, navigating a relationship as one of them undergoes a shifting or crisis of belief. I think this is a different topic than relating to someone who has never shared a belief system with you, although I’m sure there is some overlap.
I want to say again that I feel like anything I have learned about listening is from the gracious way that people have listened to me. I am grateful.
In the previous post, we talked about how to respond when someone shares a belief that they have grown into or away from that is difficult for you to accept.
Those initial conversations are hard.
There is shock and disappointment and grief and…
What comes next?
Well, let me tell you what comes next.
Life comes next.
There is much life to be lived in this new space.
(Please keep in mind that I am talking about people who are in a healthy, loving friendship/relationship. possibly with some level of commitment (such as marriage or family) attached to the relationship. Obviously, there are scenarios where a relationship might need to be released, rather than leaned into.)
Here are some things to consider as you think about moving forward.
- We can give ourselves permission to cry. To grieve. We don’t have to pretend that this isn’t hard. It’s healthy to acknowledge the difficulty of this situation.
- We can remember that it takes tremendous courage to be honest and share a changed personal belief with someone else. It can feel awkward to know what to do after that initial conversation. Here’s what NOT to do: don’t pretend that that conversation never happened. Your friend was brave, and you can be too. Maybe try saying something like, “Thank you for sharing with me the other day. I’m glad that we have this kind of friendship. How have you been feeling since our conversation?” Let them know that the door for honest conversation is open and that you care about what they are thinking about.
- We can still acknowledge the beauty and good that we see in our loved one. When you are going through a spiritual shift or crisis, it can feel like you are constantly disappointing the people you love. To have someone say, “I see this beautiful attitude in you” or “I see the love of Jesus in you when you _______” or “I’m proud of the way you _____________” could be powerful for that person. To act as though a person has nothing valuable to offer or can do nothing right because they believe something different than you is a sure way to beat down the relationship. Relationships don’t tend to do well when one half of the equation has a superiority complex.
- We can apologize when we do not listen and love as we should. There’s a good chance that mistakes will be made as we navigate a new stage of relationship. Let’s be humble and admit it when we fail.
- We can choose to keep the relationship from centering on this big new difference between us. Perhaps, in some cases, the differences are insurmountable, and the relationship needs to be released. But when it’s your spouse or your family member, you are hopefully committed to continuing the relationship. I know I just told you to be willing to keep the door open for conversation, but I also think it is necessary to make time for other things in your relationship- things like going shopping, playing tennis, talking about recipes and housekeeping, discussing what books you are reading, etc. Don’t let the differences define your entire relationship. That’s exhausting. For everyone.
- We can be honest with ourselves about the fear and questions that our friend’s change brings up in our own hearts.
- We can remember that we don’t know everything! Be open to learning something new, either from what your friend shares or from the personal processing or researching that you do as a result of hard discussions.
- We can pray!
- We can share our own thoughts and beliefs, just as we are giving the other person space to share theirs. But let’s do it genuinely… set aside intent to manipulate or induce guilt.
- We can release ourselves from the guilt of feeling that our loved one’s shift/crisis is our fault somehow. It’s easy to think things like, “Maybe if my own relationship with God would be more vibrant, they would believe that God exists.” Of course, we are all Sams and Frodos journeying together. We give to each other and receive from each other. We influence each other powerfully. I believe that God created us for these things. But at the end of a life, each person’s journey is between them and God. Taking total responsibility for someone else’s journey will eat you alive. Their choices are their choices. We can pray. We can love. We can set an example. But we can’t decide for someone else.
- We can work together with our loved one to figure out what specific steps need to be taken in order for the relationship to proceed in a healthy way. It can be easy to get caught up in an endless cycle of looping discussion, in which no one changes their mind and everyone feels frustrated and disappointed, and we spiral into a relationship that feels awkward and hopeless. It doesn’t have to be that way! Let’s just talk, people! Laugh together as you decide that you are only allowed to debate that one controversial topic every other Thursday, from 7:00-8:00 p.m. No relationship can handle being a Constant Discussion of Great Importance and Eternal Significance. Be honest about the ways you feel distant, and figure out a path forward together. And like I said earlier, find other ways to connect besides just, erm, arguing all the time.
I believe that the things that I listed above are things that can be done wholeheartedly without needing to feel that we are compromising our own beliefs.
Here’s what I’m wondering about everything I just said in these two posts.
Is this way of listening Biblical? (I probably should have figured this out before posting, huh?)
The things that I said in these two posts sit well with my soul and my personality. I’m asking myself if that is all there is to them?
I did find a few Bible references about listening to others gently and maintaining humility as we relate. (Although they are not always speaking of the same context that we are speaking of here.)
I did found a lot of instruction to “reprove, rebuke, exhort!”.
Proverbs talks a lot about listening, but often in the context of a fool heeding the instruction of someone wiser. So, in that scenario… our friend is the fool and we are the wise one? WOWIE ZOWIE, I do NOT feel like that is a good perspective to take in this scenario.
So what are the pieces that build up the ideas shared here?
A disciplined tongue.
These pieces are good and beautiful and Biblical.
But the Bible calls us to correct each other and preach the gospel as well!
It feels to me that a constant “reproving and rebuking” could wear a relationship extremely thin. Do you know what I mean? Is that simply the price one pays for preaching the Gospel or speaking truth from Scripture?
I liked David Jantzi’s comment on my previous post. He talked about how a true connection with God will radiate from a person’s being and speak louder than words.
Perhaps there is a time to share the truth with words, and a time to share the truth by simply living it.
My final words on this topic?
Trust God to guide you as you navigate your relationships.
Trust God to still surround the person you love.
He is here with us.
It seems to me that there are two ditches that we can fall into when it comes to relating to people we love who believe something different than we do. We either act like the difference isn’t there, or we allow the relationship to be defined by the difference. WHAT IS THE BALANCE?
What Bible references do you think of as you consider how to listen to and love people who have grown to see things differently than you do?
How does the kind of listening described here partner with actively speaking Truth? Does it?
What are your questions or thoughts? What have you learned from your experiences?