Listen in Love – guest post by Kristin Atchley

Recently, I was meeting with someone. The someone was processing frustrations, fears, insecurities and becoming vulnerable. It’s not uncommon for people to get real with me, mostly because I’m a therapist. Also, I believe people open up to me because I’m authentic and a listener. I don’t just listen to the words people say. I listen to their voice, their emotions, and their deep thoughts. This calling I’ve found in therapy is one I definitely don’t take lightly. Becoming vulnerable with someone is brave. When I meet with people I respect their bravery a great deal. 

As I sat and listened to this person, they discussed how they struggle in the general population because of their differences. They processed how they are not like others because of race, gender, and other unique qualities. As I reflected and validated (as I do often with people), the individual said a statement I still can’t shake. They said, “And that’s what is wrong with Christians, they don’t get me or understand me.” This comment is actually shared by many. However, this time was different. This time I really heard the emotion behind it. I took a moment and revealed the truth that I am a Christian.

After I told that person I was a Christian, they responded very predictably. They asked how can I be so caring of them because most Christians are not. I explained to this individual that I am not here for judgment but I’ve been called to love people. In Mark 2, Jesus was sitting and eating with tax collectors, not favorable people in those days. He was was asked what he was thinking, and He responded “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Likewise as Christ followers, those who are called to live in his image, we should sit, eat, and engage with those who are different than us. Sitting with them means loving them through their sin. In addition, loving people does not mean agreeing with their sin. So often I see Christians speaking loudly of the issues they oppose of instead of speaking words of love. My prayer is for my actions and deeds to be so full of love that a person says “I want what she has.” And all I have is the full grace of God and nothing less.

My hope is for everyone to know Christians as loving people. First Corinthians 13 addresses love beautifully. We’ve all read it, probably. Love one another. Let me break down the verses that highlight my point:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

Unfortunately, Christians sometimes forget they need to love those who look, live, and speak differently. Have you asked yourself recently if you’re being a noisy gong lacking love? How have you shared your voice, as a clanging cymbal or with love? When we work so hard for our point to be heard about sexuality, racial issues, poverty, schooling, mental illness, and other controversial topics, we fail to love the human behind the differences.

When I read the quote by Gandhi that said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ,” I finally got it. As Christians we often misrepresent what Christ taught us.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13

Are you a listener? Take a deep look at yourself.  If you are listening to respond, oftentimes you aren’t showing love.  Listen for what people need, not what you want them to hear.  Christians don’t win people over with counter-arguments that supercede another person’s point of view, but rather with a demeanor and approach that shows love, understanding, and a willingness to care.  If you honestly answer that question, how you show love to others that really need it, you may be surprised at the answer.  

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