“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.” ~ Anne Lamott

Once upon a time, I was a first-time mother. And I was deeply passionate, a bit sleep-deprived, extremely opinionated (surprised?), evangelistic for my opinions and convinced of my own wisdom.  Plus I was lactating. (This is a dangerous combination.) We were out for lunch with a newly-married friend that we’ve known for years and his lovely, newly pregnant wife. Our friend was wildly in love with his new bride and we were eager to get to know her. 

That is, until she casually mentioned that she had started to read a certain parenting book that I absolutely hated.

And, no kidding, I lost my crap. 

I started on a huge rant about how it was OF THE DEVIL and a LIE FROM THE PIT OF HELL and other choice language. I barreled through everything I disagreed with in that book and passionately defended my own choices as being the BEST CHOICES and the BIBLICAL CHOICES. If I remember correctly, I may have stomped through scripture to cover everything from natural childbirth to attachment parenting to breastfeeding, co-sleeping, babywearing and even the evils of spanking. It’s a bit hard to remember since it turned into a bit of a blur as I talked and talked and talked, not letting anyone get in a word edgewise. I flung statistics and apologetics, book titles and research like grenades.

And bless her heart, as you can imagine, I freaked this poor woman right out. The conversation ground to a halt and I slowly realised that everyone looked uncomfortable while I congratulated myself on a job well done. I had alienated a new friend, passed a load of judgement and baggage on the entire table and generally made an absolute ass of myself. It wasn’t that my opinions were so very wrong, it was that I had made my opinion the most important thing in the conversation.

I still feel embarrassed when I remember that ill-fated lunch.

I have also been on the other side of the table. I have been attacked about everything from my politics to my beliefs (you go too far! you don’t go far enough!), my parenting choices to my views on feminism, immigration, finances, work, calling, vocation and even, yes, the toys we allow in our home, the food we eat and so on. 

We all face the jury of our peers and our families, of society and our community every day. We think that we must contend for the truth. We swing between feeling attacked and being the attacker, driven by fear.

We think that being right – and making people agree with how right we are – is the most important thing. As if  by changing their mind will somehow change their heart, an experience, their life.

I know how terribly I feel when the choices that I have made or opinions I have developed, based on deep reflection, prayer, discussion, research and even instinct, are dismissed. Because it makes me feel dismissed. 

I am learning to practice this discipline: I’d rather you came away from a conversation feeling loved than feeling like I was right and you were wrong. I would rather if you felt listened to and valued. I’d rather if we had a conversation, that we asked each other questions, that we discovered truth together. I’d rather be open and receptive to you – my friend, my brother, my sister – than closed and convincing.

We may disagree (it’s quite likely). But I’m learning to seek peace with you, to seek understanding, to remember that I am fallible, that I don’t have it figured out. I’d rather take the position of fellow journeyer with you than the position of Judge and Jury, final authority on you.

I wonder if it is an issue of trust.  Because before, it was all on me to convince, to make sure you knew “the truth.” But now? I trust God more than me. And I trust that He is at work in the lives of others just as He is constantly at work in me. I trust that He is living and active, drawing and pruning, adjusting and loving us in spirit and truth, working in ways and means that would surprise.

Sure, I have my opinions. And if you ask me, I’m happy to share it. I love a passionate conversation, learning and exploring together. I’m honoured to offer my experience and story.

But I’d like to hear yours, too.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 97-98)

Related from the archives: In which listening is part of life together
Anyone else have a pet issue that you love to “defend?” Or do you typically feel on the attacked-side of the table?

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