“War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming—making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate.” Madeleine L’Engle, A Wind in the Door
For those of you that are Time Quintet fans like myself, this quote might sound familiar to you.
For those of you who just said, “time what??” don’t worry, keep reading. In Madeleine L’Engle’s second book in her young-adult fiction series– the Time Quintet, the lead character Meg is introduced to these beings known as the “Echthroi.”
The Echthroi are wreaking havoc in the collective universe by “x-ing” things– unnaming, encouraging people and things to resist identity and fade into nothingness.
Even if the fantasy literature is lost on you, I’m sure the concept is not. We live in a society where we are so often self-absorbed (even when sharing our most noble causes), that we miss the process of honoring and valuing the people that we share Creation with.
Almost every time I see a question asked in an online group-no matter how clear a person is about the question they ARE or ARE NOT asking, inevitably there are several commenters who blow right past the question-asker’s request and share their very unsolicited opinion.
From politics to parenting, we are in a culture that tells us as soon as we hear someone disagree with our point of view, we should be quick to write them off, unfollow, mute their feed, and move on with our day.
This combined with the social media algorithms that are notorious for locking us into our own echo-chamber of like-minded individuals has all but robbed us of our ability to Name each other, as Madeleine L’Engle would put it.
In other words, to honor the humanity of people who disagree with us.
The Echthroi are alive and well in our churches, our social media feeds, on the television, and in our very communities. The Enemy has convinced us that the best way to manage disagreement, discord, and conflict is to ignore, call out, or “hold accountable,” those that think differently than us.
And don’t get me wrong. I do believe that accountability and calling people higher are, in fact, good things. But, I do think there is a better way to do this than simply slandering people and ideas in a public space, or in quiet whispers with your more like-minded mom friends.
“No one really comprehends what happens on earth. Despite all human efforts to discover it, no one can ever grasp it. Even if a wise person claimed that he understood, he would not really comprehend it.” Ecclesiastes 8:17
I posted a guided meditation to help us approach life with an open-handed posture, and last week we discussed how the message of “hold it loosely” might pertain to how we schedule and structure our days as mothers.
I believe that the message of “hold it loosely,” has the most power, though, in its implications for how we approach one another in conversation.
Ecclesiastes 8:17 gives us a window into the heart that I believe God calls us to in our conversation, and it is so important for us as mothers to take to heart.
The mothering season is such a challenging place for welcoming others into our heart space, mostly because we’re already wrestling with so much internally.
It’s a prime place for pride to take root, because we are in need of solid footing as a defense-mechanism against all that may shake our confidence in how we choose to mother (and do just about any other adult task).
The problem is that when we try to sure up this footing on our own strength, that pride takes root and we become defensive, judgemental, critical… We become agents of Madeleine L’Engle’s Echthroi. We X.
If we want to continue to be lights for the Kingdom of God in this mothering life, we will need to adopt a heart of humility toward the other moms (and other humans) that we know. We’re talking next month about mom-shame and how to sure up our hearts on the strength of God instead of the strength of our pride.
But today, let’s chat a bit about how the heart of humility might transform our relationships and conversations, especially with those we disagree with.
Here are 3 steps to approaching conversations with people who might disagree with you.
First, listen and ask questions.
The art of asking questions seems to be all but lost in our culture. We are very good at soap boxes and keyboard-warfare, but the physical act of listening to someone and asking questions before making a judgement doesn’t seem to come so easy to us anymore.
I wonder what it would be like the next time you hear a mom at the park or in Hobby Lobby voicing something that makes you prickle, if you would lean in a bit and ask a question instead of walking away with a judgemental shake of the head.
“I’m curious to know what lead to that decision.”
“Tell me more about that.”
“What was that like for you?”
When we approach difficult or controversial topics with a posture of listening and asking questions, I really believe it has twofold power.
First, we disarm the person across the table from us, giving them an opportunity to share their heart and their experiences. And, we might learn something new about the situation or the person in the process.
Which leads me to the next important piece in conversations with people you disagree with:
Never assume you know the whole story.
This feels like it should be a no-brainer, but I can attest personally that it is not. Our brains are experts at imaginatively “filling in the gaps” to what we don’t know– at injecting our own context clues, our own emotional experiences, our own beliefs into an unknown situation.
We don’t do this on purpose, but we do it. Intentionality and self-awareness are necessary ingredients to stopping that process of assumption and shifting to listening and seeing the other person in the conversation. When we do make that shift, though, it has the power to bring depth and light into an otherwise divisive or awkward conversation.
So, the next time you feel yourself coming to a judgement about a particular person, situation, decision, ask yourself if you know the whole story. If not, refer back to step one and ask some questions. Not snarky questions with the aim of proving that person wrong, but genuine questions rooted in humility with the goal of learning something.
Which brings us to the third step in having conversation with someone you disagree with,
Allow room in your heart for God to teach you something new.
The image-bearing nature of humans extends to all people, not just people we agree with, who parent like us, who vote like us, or [insert literally anything here] like us.
I truly believe that most behaviors by most people are rooted in rational reasons they hold in their heart. Be it a pain reaction, a belief system they hold, a cause they’re passionate about, or any other reason, people usually do, say, and believe things for a reason.
Obviously, there may certainly be some exceptions to this rule (though I think the exceptions are far less common than we might think), but it’s generally safe to assume that most people are acting from the most rational place in their own life context.
When we can release our judgemental posture and ask questions, we might just be open to learning something new about the world, or even something new about our God that we serve.
Not all of the image-bearers are the same, and so it stands to be expected that if we remain locked in our own echo-chamber, we will have a very one-dimensional view of the complex, beautiful, and artistic God that we serve.
I want to be clear that I am not advocating for us to ignore wrongdoing, to accept oppression, or champion behaviors that are harmful to other people. Nor is it inappropriate to have causes, beliefs, and platforms to stand on and fight for.
I am, however, encouraging us as Christian women to engage in these things prayerfully, humbly, and with an eye to honoring the humanity of those who see the world differently than we do.
I’ll finish this post with a very fitting scripture for us to ponder. This week’s Thriving Friday email will hold a guided meditation to prepare our hearts for difficult conversations with those we disagree with.
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6
How about you? Is it natural for you to ask questions when speaking with someone you disagree with?