“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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  • Mary1912

    Yeah, one of my pet issues is the one you mentioned in your example. I also feel the same passionate disgust and anger toward that one particular view of parenting. It’s hard to hold back.

    Other pet issues: gun rights, libertarian views of what the government can and can’t do in private lives, certain church practices (or lack thereof), attitudes toward the poor and needy in our midst. All these things get me riled up. Oh, and throw in the abuse of the apostrophe and that should make it a comprehensive inventory!

    • Ha! Oh, abuses of grammar are definitely grounds for going off. You have my full support in that crusade.

  • About a year ago, after 30+ years of adult life, I realized that the world rarely asked for my opinion. The NYTimes has never asked me to weigh in on ethnic cleansing; Presidents–neither Republican nor Democrat–have never summed me to the White House to offer a few words on the economy; not even other pastors in my own town have beaten a path to my door to hear words drop like pearls from my lips. Every issue was “my pet issue.” Yet no one had ever asked.

    Now, even on those rare occasions when my closest friends ask for my viewpoint, I try first to demur, because most of my friends are as smart, or smarter than me (true, there’s this one guy, but it wouldn’t be polite to name names.) I begun to discover the freedom in David’s words in Psalm 131, and I just enjoy being with my friends.

    I love your words, Sarah: “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 am learning this very slowly still. After all I have an entire site dedicated to espousing my own opinions. *sigh* I want that same freedom, to release people and myself from this need to be right and be heard.

  • I think I’m still figuring out the balance here. In real life, I am pretty quiet, unless I know you fairly well and then I can open up and talk about stuff in depth. I write about whatever I am thinking about, and I very rarely comment on blogs (or read them for that matter) that I have a major disagreement with. I’m not sure how my writing comes off to others, but I do try to write as openly as I can, relating what I’ve experienced and the conclusions that I’ve come to, without saying that anyone else has to think the same.

    • I have gotten to that point with the blogs I read as well. I just don’t subscribe or read ones that bug me. I think your blog is always very clear without being alienating or accusatory.

  • Jessica Mueller

    Natural childbirth. I’ve gotten much better about keeping my mouth shut.

    • That’s one for me, too. I can feel myself coiling for the leap when someone says “Are you kidding? As soon as the first pain hits, get me that epidural!” and have to catch myself to listen.

  • Brittaney

    For the most part I have learned not to give my opinion unless asked. Most people don’t care about what you/I think anyway. That was a lesson I had to learn the very hard way.

    • I’m still learning that lesson. And you’re right. It is hard

  • So, did the book happen to be “Shepherding a Child’s Heart?”

    • Nuh-uh! Not telling! See…look at me! I’m growing! 😉

  • Margi

    I’m thinking the book was “Babywise”?? Oh, my goodness, this post did me good today! I just did that to a good friend the other day on breastfeeding… oh WHY do I have to push my point??? I do feel like breast is best but HONESTLY I don’t need to alienate my friends who choose to introduce the bottle AT BIRTH. I have such a hard time with that though, y’know??

    • It is hard when you’re so passionate about something. I find the breastfeeding/parenting ones almost the hardest because I feel like someone needs to advocate for the baby in this instance. For the things that affect only you, sure, go knock yourself out. But when there is someone else affected by the choice, it’s hard not to want to pipe up. I get that.

  • Oh, I am passionate too, and ignorant far too often to friends and family. These days I have a great on-going opportunity to practice keeping my mouth shut as my brother battles with terminal brain cancer, doing the radiation and chemo route while I would chose so differently. They’ve given him virtually no hope, and I believe there are so many options out there.

    But a wise friend of mine told me to find balance between being honest with what I believe and preserving our relationship. And like in most things, its all in the presentation. Serve it all up with Love.

  • Tamara

    I am opinionated too, but I by and large keep it to myself. However, I think by the silence some eventually wonder if actually agree with them or not? LOL I try very very hard in my homeschool group to keep “peace”(I guess theirs, not mine) because I’m white and a Christian the thought is that I’m automatically have a certain set of beliefs…haha and I don’t! But, you know my liberal friends can’t quite grasp me with all my Jesus business either! It’s an interesting life and I love it!


  • Shelley

    I suppose I am one of the lurkers you reference. I happened upon your blog today through http://ayoungmomsmusings.blogspot.com/, and yes, the issue of spanking is what brought me here. It’s hard to find moms of your faith who don’t believe in spanking, and I’ve been so happy reading about both of your views. I struggle with the same issues you’re referencing above. I strive to be as open-minded and accepting as I can, and it’s easy when it comes to how someone wants to live or believe or be in the world, but how do you balance accepting and encouraging individual freedoms with protecting those who are not in the position to protect themselves? Spanking is a friendly term we’ve come up with to justify hitting a small child. It makes me feel ill to think about it. Shouldn’t children have a right to a life free from violence? So, even though sometimes it’s embarrassing to be in a position where your passionate words overwhelm someone else, or if you wish you’d spoken your mind more softly, maybe make a little room to congratulate yourself on speaking up for the vulnerable and defenseless, for trying to protect the basic human rights of a child. Maybe because of you she’ll think twice about hitting her children. In my book, that’s a success.

  • Stephanie

    This is an important truth: “I’d rather you came away from a conversation feeling loved than feeling like I was right and you were wrong.” Thank you for that excellent thought.

    Also – I like that you’re passionate and opinionated. The world needs more people like you – people that can debate with fire and clarity…and then hug at the end.