These last few days I have been at a preaching conference listening to some of the best preachers in the country. It has been a blessing to be among so many deeply committed and loving Christian colleagues. I must say that I felt a bit sorry for an outstanding Catholic preacher as he followed a powerful charismatic Pentecostal African-American preacher who was on fire.
Yesterday as I sat alone having a quick breakfast, I could not help but overhear the many conversations going on around me. What struck me was how different each conversation was, not only in terms of content, but the feelings expressed. While my intent was not to eavesdrop and although I spent not more than a second or two hearing each one, I realized that there are always conversations going on all around us.
Conversations can be heard in the news, family living rooms, on sidewalks, in reception lines, magazine articles, churches, during sermons, and in echoes from our past, just to name a few places. Which conversations we choose to listen to impacts us dramatically and affects how we feel, what we think, how we act, the decisions we make, and how we plan for the day and the future.
While this may all be obvious, what is perhaps subtle is that if we only attend to conversations that are in alignment with what we think, believe, and feel, our understanding of ourselves, others and even God are likely to become overly limited as time passes.
I believe it is vital for each of us as we follow Jesus, to be willing to listen to conversations that make us uncomfortable, cause us to ask questions, and lead us to the place in which we might just be willing to begin to see things through the eyes of another person whose life experience is dramatically different. When we do so, we are far more likely to respond to others as Jesus would, with empathy, understanding, compassion, and care. And when that happens, each of us is far more likely to spend more time listening than speaking.