Today's post is written by Alison Elliott, wife, mother, homeschool teacher and friend to many of us.
Unrest, uncertainty and upheaval...these are words that may come to mind when looking at our world today. There have been many conversations (and probably many arguments) about how we, as Christians, should cope and respond. These conversations have weighed heavily on my heart. I’ve noticed that during our discussions, there have been assumptions that we should feel and think the same way about any given topic. God has been gently reminding me that while we are all united under the banner of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6), He has given us all unique perspectives and insights into any topic of discussion.
For the last 5 years, God has been gracious in providing for our family to host weekly Wednesday night taco nights. We jokingly call it Taco Tuesday on Wednesday. We have several single adults in their 20s and early 30s share a meal around our dining room table and then move to our den for a time of Bible study. The conversations run the gamut from silly jokes to more serious dialogue. Our “taco night family” is as diverse as the topics of conversation. We all come from different families. There are a couple who were not raised in America. We have young men and young women. Most are on their own for the first time. We all attend different churches in Birmingham. All of this diversity of upbringing, church fellowship, and experience can lead to some interesting conversations.
In our home, we have made it a point to talk freely about any topic. There is not much that we will not talk about, or haven’t already talked about. (There has even been an occasion or two when we split up by gender to make conversation more comfortable for our people and conducive for open conversation.) We have all had cause for disagreement. One thing that the Lord has been teaching and honing in us is the ability to disagree with each other and still love each other well. Because we are all different people, there will be times where we disagree. I mean, let’s be real. There is not a single person in the world with whom we would agree 100% of the time. Not one. Yet in today’s culture, to disagree with someone is interpreted as hating them or hating their opinion. Y’all, that’s a lie. God can use these moments of conflict and disagreement to teach us something, to refine us, to make us more like Jesus.
So, what are some practical, biblical things to consider when you disagree with someone and desire to continue to love that person well?
There is certainly a time and place to feel fired up about things, to have hard boundaries, and to stand firm, particularly when fighting injustice or defending the meek. We see examples of this with how Jesus handled the money-changers (in Matthew 21 & John 2) and when He rebuked Peter for being a hindrance to Him (Matthew 16:23). However, for most topics of discussion, God has shown me a few things to keep in mind.
Before we can have a conversation about a potentially difficult topic, we should be pray that God will help us listen first. Listening well is becoming a dying art. any of us long to be seen, long to be heard, long to be known. We can be excited to share our point of view, thus we can overlook the other person. What was supposed to be a dialogue turns into a monologue. I know there have been so many occasions where I went headlong into a conversation with all the passion I could muster for my side of the argument, ready to convince the other person to change their point of view. However, there are times that if I had just been willing to listen more to my friend (or whomever), a conflict could have been lessened or altogether avoided. Further, if I had been more willing to listen from the start, I may have learned something about the other person or their point of view that could have proved to be enlightening, humbling, or simply encouraging.
When we choose to listen, we are free to learn as well. Instead of listening to respond, what if we listened to learn? When we are in school, we are taught to listen while the teacher is instructing the class on a lesson. Then, questions may be asked once she is done with instruction. It’s a good model to follow, especially when listening to another person with whom we may disagree. If we interrupt or speak over the other person, we aren't listening to what they are saying. Interrupting someone allows our own pride to get in the way of meaningful dialogue. We miss out on opportunities to hear new ideas, to grow, or to strengthen our own convictions.
As much as we have the capacity to learn new ideas, God has been showing me how to unlearn some prejudices and preconceived notions. He has used the time I have spent listening to people, and reading articles and books with points of view different from my own, to soften my heart. I am beginning to see the people behind the points of view, rather than the ideas with which I disagree. It has allowed me to love the person, rather than hate the idea. I may still disagree with their idea, but it is becoming easier to separate the idea from the person.
Lastly, we need to ask ourselves, “Am I speaking to be right, or am I speaking to deepen the conversation?” I know there have been many times over the course of my life where I have spoken out of anger, frustration, or just plain passion about a topic. I don’t remember a time where the conversation ever ended well when I did that. One thing I have learned over the years is that there is risk in any discussion. At the very least, there is risk of being misunderstood. There is risk in speaking the truth. Risk in being bold, or not bold enough. Risk in not saying enough, or saying too much. In any conflict or discussion, there is a chance that the other person will choose to end the relationship. You can never control the reactions of others, but you can control your words and response with the help of the Spirit. Let’s pray the Lord’s goodness and mercy encapsulate our response.
Some good questions that I have started asking of myself are: Is this issue a biblical principle or is it simply my opinion or preference? Can I absorb the conflict without resentment, or do I need to speak? In other words, is this conflict something I can overlook and be able to continue in the relationship? Is this a pattern of behavior or an offense that cannot be reconciled without discussion? Am I willing to risk damaging or ending a relationship over this issue? There will be times where the answer to those questions leads you to taking the risk for the relationship because it is necessary to do so. And that is okay. There may be times where you need to pause the relationship to be able to process the discussion. There will also be times that it is good to remain silent and carry on in the relationship. May God be glorified in those decisions.
Disagreement and conflict don’t need to have a negative connotation. We can learn how to have productive disagreements with each other and still be able to love well. When we listen to each other, we are more likely to learn. Then we are more likely to speak out of love, with truth and compassion. Unity can exist in the presence of differing opinions. It is for our benefit and for the glory of God that we choose to listen, to learn, and to speak with humility and gentleness.
- Alison Elliott