08 September 2011

How to Have a Conversation as a Christian

My brother Eric--
The two great commandments in Mark 10--to love God undividedly and to love our neighbors as ourselves--do not only meet us as obligations. They are invitations to come out of ourselves into that fullness of life and joy which our Creator means for us to have.

Every sin involves a turning inward, away from God and my neighbor. Even if "turning inward" doesn't entirely describe that sin, an essential part of every sin is the elevation of Self to the diminishment of God and neighbor. When I steal, if I hate, if I covet, or break any other commandment, that is part of what is going on.

The next time you have a conversation, try an experiment: as much as you can, put aside what you want to say, how you might be tempted to interrupt, and your own projects for today. Rivet your attention on the person opposite you. There stands before you, potentially, a god or a monster, one who will be glorified with the Lord's own glory such that you'd be tempted to worship them if you saw it; or someone which, if Self gets the upper hand, will become so shriveled and ugly your skin would crawl if you could see it. You know how when you're listening to someone and you check your watch to see what time it is? The direction and momentum of your attention shifts. Do the opposite of that: keep the direction of your attention straight toward them, and upward to God. Pray silently (even if the other is blathering about something completely trivial) that whatever this person needs or wants might arise in the conversation.

There are a thousand non-verbal clues we give off about the complexity of fears and hopes inside. We do it unconsciously; it comes off us like a scent. Look for the clues. Listen for the subtext. There's always another layer of meaning beneath any statement. Wait on God to bring to light that satisfying and liberating word or verse from Scripture which that other needs to hear, and which will bless you too.

It sounds exhausting to do this, but it's actually deeply exciting and invigorating.
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