Warning—incoming honesty missile. This may be TMI on my relationship with my husband, but here goes. Trust me, I’m not telling you anything he doesn’t know.
The biggest issue I am having with my dear spouse right now is that sometimes, I just want an apology. You know, when you mention something that bugged you, or something that didn’t get done that was promised? And the response is, “But I…” “Well I did that because…” or “If you hadn’t…”
I really, really hate that response. Here is the truth of our conflict. I don’t need to be right. I don’t require a lifetime commitment to change. I just desperately want to hear “I’m sorry,” with no excuses. I want to know my concerns and needs have been heard.
Defensiveness makes me crazy. (Plus, I am really good at it.)
Hearing words that immediately defend, justify, or condescend does things to a human soul. Words and actions of defensiveness shut down all potential communication. Any relationship that may have developed dies. They say, “I don’t want to hear your heart.” “Your experience is invalid.” “My need to be right outvalues your need to be recognized.”
Imagine actually saying those things to another human being.
Yet that is exactly what a lot of us church people do. We don’t use those precise words, but we might as well. What is true for us interpersonally in our closest relationships is true in all relationships—when we put up our defenses first, we lose all possibility of hearing another person’s heart. When we refuse to hear, we refuse to be the image of God we were created to be.
Because God is all about seeing and hearing. Always.
God is given the name “The God who sees” almost from the beginning (Genesis 16). In the same verses, he declares that he is also the God who hears. From the very first covenant with his people, God sets himself up as the One who sees and hears his people. And for God, these are active verbs. They mean to deeply see, to recognize, to delve for need and hope and hurt and to provide for their remedy.
God is not the spouse who nods and assents, “Yep, I hear you,” all the while checking text messages and Buzzfeed. God is the one who looks you in the eye and sits until it’s all out there, vulnerable and raw, and then begins to heal. That’s his version of hearing.
How good are we at that?
Jesus saw the woman at the well’s thirst, when no one, never mind Jewish men who were not “supposed” to see her, would look her way.
Peter heard Cornelius’ faith when by law he should not have stepped into his house.
God saw a lonely, homeless, hopeless single parent when those responsible for her refused to take responsibility.
Jesus saw Zaccheus’ shame when his neighbors overlooked and despised him.
God heard Hannah’s pleas when no one listened to a woman in pain.
We must see and hear, too.
In all the sins that have been recently cast on the church, deserved or not, the common denominator seems to be this defensiveness. We are so busy defending ourselves, we forget that Jesus never told us to do that.
In this world you will have trouble.
“But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.
It seems Jesus told us, repeatedly, to do quite the opposite of defending ourselves. But still, we don’t get it.
I understand. It’s so counterintuitive to what we believe. All that we’ve been told. Everything that screams the American way. We’ve been immersed in a culture of rights, independence, and individualism our entire lives. We equate it with “right” naturally, because it’s all we’ve ever known. That’s what all people everywhere do. Humans see what is as what should be, because no one else’s reality has ever been part of their experience.
Unfortunately, that means white, (usually male), American Christians most often see the status quo that retains their position as what is right. It is what has always been. How would we know any different?
The only way to know is to listen. To hear. To see. To look someone else in the eye and say, “I want to know what your experience is. And I want to keep my mouth shut while you tell me.”
I know this is true because it’s true in my own house. And human relationships are all basically the same. We just want to be heard.
In the last few months, how many issues have drawn the defensive shots of Christians?
Millennials are leaving the church? Well, they just want a watered down gospel. They’re looking for weak truth, and we aren’t compromising.
Gay people want wedding cakes or photos? They’re targeting and persecuting us for our beliefs.
People of color still believe white privilege exists? They’re delusional hoodlums.
Christians should be accountable for their historic atrocities? How dare anyone suggest that? We don’t go around starting holy wars or abducting people and enslaving them. Now.
Here’s a radical response: What if all many of these people really want is to be heard?
What if they’re not saying Christians today are responsible for it all? What if they’re not demanding we find a solution? What if they’re not insisting we agree? What if they don’t need a lifelong commitment to change our ways but simply a recognition that this is their experience? And it’s worth hearing?
What if my knee-jerk reaction was not to defend my way of life but to be the image-bearer of God, to be the eyes and ears of the One who sees and hears?
You are someone worth listening to. My need to be right does not outvalue your need to be recognized. I see you as a fellow image of God. And however flawed we both may be, the one thing I must commit to is “acting as a child of the Most High, and being compassionate, just as (my) Father is compassionate.”
Acting as his child is irrevocably linked to acting with compassion. Jesus would not separate them, and he did not put my rights above that command. if I find one thing necessary to defend, that could be it.