“I don’t care what you think about me. I don’t think about you at all.” Coco Chanel was a French fashion designer in the late-1800s, but her modern attitude is still en vogue and trending in 2019.
And then there was the salty Eleanor Roosevelt, America’s feisty, four-term-first-lady, who once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how very seldom they do.”
Her sentiment still rings true, and it still stings a little. Because if today’s world is anything, she’s predictably filled to the brim with her own words and worries to think or care much about yours and mine.
I’ve been wondering: What would it look like for the household of God to be a shelter – a place of attentive shalom – in this kind of world?
Susan Phillips, a professor of Spiritual Practices at Regent Seminary says that the definition of real attention is ‘to bend towards’. She uses the example of the Trinity, all three persons bending towards one another in preferential love, each member wholly attentive and interested in the other, a river of life and love overflowing to the world.
But most of us don’t naturally bend attentively towards others, or God, especially if we have nothing to gain for the bending. Rather, we’d prefer that God and others bend more and more towards us! Contrast this with Jesus who said on the night before he was betrayed: “Father, I have loved those who you gave me in this world, and I have loved them to the end.”
David Augsburger, a theologian and an author of several books on forgiveness writes, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”
Being heard – really heard – feels like being loved. So how do we better love? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor during WWII, tells us how: “The beginning of love for the brethren is listening to them.”
To generate any *real* love for another requires that we humble ourselves, bend towards them, and really listen. So how can we better listen in a manner that results in ‘love for the brethren’, even for those we aren’t naturally inclined to bend ourselves towards?
1. Practice the spiritual discipline of holy listening. Practice ‘bending towards’ others without any agenda (even if it’s a very good agenda in your opinion!). In the moments you are together with another, take an active interest in what God is doing in their lives.
2. Practice unmasking. To be human means that our core fear is to be *truly* seen and then found unacceptable in another’s sight. “What will people think if they were to see the real me?” we worry. And so, since Adam and Eve in the garden, we’ve found ways to cover our nakedness so as not to expose our shame.
Andre Berthiaume, a Canadian Army officer in the early 1900s said, “We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”
Holy unmasking means praying, “I will, with God’s help, take off my mask at the risk of losing some of my protective skin.” And holy listening means praying, “I will, with God’s help, bend towards you with my full attention. I will seek out the best, the truest, and the most beautiful thing about you – which is that Christ himself is alive in you!”
What would it look like for you to gather a small group of three to meet regularly with the intention of growing in holiness with God and with each other? A group of three who bend towards each other with Christ at the very center?
That said, there are some common fears people have before entering into something with a deeper level of intimacy than the world offers. One of them is this: Do I have enough time to take on one more commitment? Will it be worth it? I have only so many hours in the day, and I’m already giving myself away to so many people…
An anonymous poet five-hundred years before Christ said, “Knowing not how to listen, they knew not how to speak.” Friends, listening well – loving the brethren well – is such a precious gift in this noisy and distracted age. Everyone is talking, talking, talking, and it doesn’t seem the clamor will abate any time soon.
How then, can we not practice the discipline of holy listening if we really want to speak, and be, Christ’s sheltering shalom in his world?
Peace to you and yours today, because we weren’t called to give ourselves away, we were called to bend towards Christ and give him away!