Beautiful Obedience

Monday Musing: Postured to Understand

Happy Monday, to you!

The feedback we get on our newsletters is funny. Lots of folks seem to like the pics and the personal stories. Some seem to appreciate having concrete things to be praying about. And some are helped by the more ethereal, what-we’re-learning bits – “the teachy stuff”, as my lovely wife says. It’s hard to fit all that in an update short enough that people will read it 🙂

So, I had an idea. Occasionally, on a Monday, I’ll write something I’m thinking about, drawn from experiences – with people, with God, with the Text – in this context. We’ll call those Monday’s Musings. Occasionally, on Wednesdays, I’ll hit you up with a story or a situation here, and some concrete things to pray for. What’s Up Wednesday. How does that sound?

We’ve been consulting with another team in the country, here. They’re all new (inside their first two years). So, of course, they’re showing the wear and tear of team life, trying to learn a new language in a new place with a new culture and finding out they’re not who they thought they were, exactly – so, even a new them.

They invited us to a team meeting and we shared some things we wish we had known, or ways we wish we had thought about things, in our first few years here. Essentially, 4 New Orientations for Life Abroad.

Orienting to a Language.

Orienting to a Culture.

Orienting to a whole new angle on You and Jesus.

Orienting to your Team.

The cool thing was that, as I put this little talk together, I found there were themes that emerged – lessons that applied to more than one orientation. Postures for Becoming.

So, for a few of these Monday Musings, I thought I’d share some of those Postures for Becoming. Read on, but only if you care to!

Posture One – Desiring To Understand over Being Understood

There’s a prayer attributed to Francis of Assisi in which he asks God, “Grant that I might seek not to be understood, so much as to understand.” That should be the prayer of every language student on the planet. And everyone in a human relationship.

Westerners get here, and we want to learn language. What that means is we want to control our environment using language. So, what do we do? We try to find a language school so we can start speaking. We start learning grammar very quickly, and we are asked to produce – to speak or to write – quite soon. Usually, we use a book or written text to do this.

Just like the way kids learn their native language.

Wait, no.

Kids acquire language long before they can learn about it. Who learns grammar in preschool? Kids learn language by hearing it, and then by listening (which is different by way of intent). Slowly, the body of language that they understand grows, until eventually, given the right situation, speech just erupts. Language is acquired by long, quiet practice of listening, then, after that, producing. Linguists refer to this as “the silent period” – the time in which language is being acquired but no speaking is happening.

Adults can acquire second, third, eighth languages this way. If they will be quiet long enough. For this reason I always strongly encourage language learners to stay away from programs that have them speaking at all in the first month of full time study (beyond some simple survival phrases). If you want to acquire a language, you’ve got to put a premium and priority on listening. Listening is the master skill of communication. Seeking to understand.

But we get here and spaz out. Everything is out of our control, and we really want to feel like we are mastering something. So we choose programs that have us reading sounds we don’t know how to hear, yet. So, our accent is awful and we never sound quite right. We start talking before we know how people go about saying things, so we wind up cobbling together sentences that make sense to us, using their words, but the meaning is totally lost on them. We often speak without communicating because we let our anxiety push us to value being understood over understanding.

But if we want to share the gospel, we’ve got to be able to communicate. To communicate, we have to value the other end of communication more than we do. Listening is the master skill in disciple making.

This posture is critical if work groups are ever to become real teams, and if teams are ever to last as formative communities. We must seek to understand more than we seek to be understood. When there’s a conflict, we must seek to understand the other person’s point of view, and that has to be more important to us than vindicating ourselves, proving our point, getting our way – whatever, making ourselves understood. It is possible to win a conversation, and lose a community. Listening is the master skill in team life.

I’m noticing this in Jesus’s life, too. Every time there’s a major decision, he disappears into the mountains or across the sea to pray. When he comes back, he has some direction from the Father. Do you think he went off into solitude and started talking and just talked the whole time? How did the Father tell him anything if he was talking the whole time? I’m beginning to wonder how much of Jesus’s prayer life was quietly listening. I heard an older woman answer this way when asked on the fly what prayer is; she said, “Prayer is listening to heart and love of God.” Listening, huh? An author I’m reading these days, while reflecting on the story of Martha and Mary in Luke’s gospel, says of Jesus, “This particular house guest is not so concerned with being served as with being listened to … It is Martha’s attention he wants, not her activity.” What if listening is the master skill of prayer?

So, here’s something to think about. How big a role does (not should, but does) listening play in your disciple making? In your praying? In your family? In your ministry? In your teams? How often do you use good, curious questions? Not leading questions, but questions designed and delivered because you’re really wanting to understand more about the other person, of more of their point of view? When you’re having one of those argument fantasies – you know the ones I’m talking about – how much of that conversation is you asking questions, and how much is you giving them a piece of your mind? What might happen if you flipped the script in your imaginary conversations, and used that creative juice to make a list of questions that might help you understand this person you love, better? Because listening is the master skill of love.

So, pray with me and with Francis, God, grant that we might seek not to be understood, as to understand. Lord, let us listen. Amen.


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