What The Baby Book Taught Me About Listening

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Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

-Ephesians 4:25

It’s easy to quickly read over these sections on “speaking the truth,” because most of us consider ourselves mostly honest. Very few of us think of ourselves as lying very often. However, I wonder whether avoiding lying is really “speaking the truth.” How often do we talk about the things that are deeply true of us? How often do we encourage others to talk about whats deeply true of them, in a way that’s helpful?

This verse leads right into one you may remember hearing: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Anger is an interesting (and oftentimes difficult) reality to “speak the truth” about. Anger–like embarrassment or fear or grief or countless others–is an emotion we often hide, hide, hide, then impulsively overflow, without ever really taking the time to simply speak the truth about it, in a godly and therapeutic way.

“Speaking the truth” reminds me of something I read in our baby book this week, an admonition to help others speak the truth by being willing to stop and hear the truth:

Like first responders everywhere, when everyone else [is] either screaming, sitting on the sidelines, or running away… [parents who raise emotionally mature children] are fearless in the face of raging floods of emotion from their child. They don’t try to shoot down emotions, ignore them, or let them have free reign over the welfare of their family. Instead, these parents get involved in their kids’ strong feelings.

-John Medina, Brain Rules for Baby, p.208

There’s such a thing as oversharing, and there’s such a thing as being nosy. However, if you’re anything like me, you might not experience these two problems as much as their two opposites: Avoiding speaking the truth and avoiding hearing the truth. This could change if more of us in The Church were willing to be “emotional first responders” for one another. Rather than running from emotional emergencies, waiting for “the professionals” to arrive, we could change our initial reaction to running to our loved ones in emotional need, ready to hear the truth in a helpful way.

You may ask, “Am I really qualified for this? And what’s a helpful way?” You are qualified for this, and a helpful way starts with the following verse, mentioned above: “Be angry and do not sin.” When we listen to those we care about, we don’t have to solve their lives or even their problems. We can simply help them clarify what they feel and how not to respond to these feelings (perhaps how to deal with them). You’d be surprised how often this takes no particular insight or advice (in fact, you don’t have to say very much, just ask a few questions); it only takes willingness to spend time listening, endure the uncomfortableness of talking about unpleasant feelings, and trust in the Spirit of God, who is at work.

Something in us always wants to run from others’ strong emotions, but sometimes God would have us love this person by being an emotional first responder, by rushing to (not from) the crisis. This verse is not a warrant to pry; it is is a commission to be available, without fear of our loved ones’ fear or anger at our loved ones’ anger.

Earlier in Ephesians 4, we’re told that all Christians are meant for “the work of ministry.” This is one of the ways we minister to (that is, serve) one another. We don’t have to wait for the professionals to arrive; we can listen. We can “let each one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”

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