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With Gentleness and Respect: Two Crucial Questions

Posted by Lindy Keffer on

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Bulldozers Need Not Apply

In my family of origin, I'm the oldest of four siblings and the only girl. If you called me a bossy big sister, you wouldn't be wrong—or at least, you'd have a handle on a piece of my history. Early on in life, I found out that I like being right. And I found no small pleasure in telling my brothers that they were wrong

As I grew up, I made an important discovery: it might feel good to be right all. the. time. But it isn't good for my relationships. Telling others what they ought to think isn't the best way to grow in friendship and love. And, shockingly, it isn't even the best way to get folks to change what they believe. 

What's true in families is true in all kinds of relationships: speaking kindly to others is of utmost importance. 

Uncovering Untruths with Gentleness and Respect

Our sermon series this Lent focuses on misconceptions about God, Jesus and the Christian faith commonly held by those who don't follow Christ. Our goal is to understand the skeptics' doubts from their perspective and to dialogue in ways that helps doubters move a step closer to Jesus. 

As we begin this journey, I want to share two questions the Lord has been pressing on my heart over the past few years. When I mentally ask myself these questions in the course of a conversation, I'm a better listener and am more intentionally respectful toward those who disagree with me. 

Question 1:
Can I say this in a way that someone who disagrees with me can respect?

Because our culture values tolerance so highly, it's sometimes hard to remember that conflict and disagreement are not wrong in and of themselves. It's OK to disagree, so long as we don't give way to disrespect.  

When I know I'm about to say something controversial, the Lord has been teaching me to pause and consider: are my words inflammatory? Am I "poking the bear" by using insider language, making one-sided assumptions or calling names? Or can I use my words to show that I have heard and understood the other person's perspective, even if I don't agree with it? Can I acknowledge what I find helpful about his or her viewpoint, even if I can't concede the whole argument?

When I make it a point to find common ground through using common language, I build strength into the relationship that allows the dialogue to continue and grow deeper. 

Question 2:
What actually causes people to change their minds?

Consider the last time you changed your thinking, or even made an about-face on an issue about which you feel strongly. How did the shift take place? What helped you become willing to reconsider? 

Not a single person I know would say that being badgered, guilt-tripped, shouted down, insulted or patronized was a catalyst for a change of thinking. More often, good listening, thoughtful questions and plenty of space and time to test new ideas against reality are the gentle means by which significant mind- and heart-change occurs. 

If I want others to show me these courtesies, the least I can do is return the favor. 

What important ideas compel you to work hard at respectful conversation?


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