Quiet yourself until you no longer feel the need to interrupt, or tell a story you think is similar. Still that something in your soul that makes you speak whenever you hear an anecdote that feels uncomfortable or hard.
Give the storyteller time to unwind the tale fully, even when it seems to pause, presenting you an opening. Let all the facts unfold, until from nod or gesture you discern the whole thing has been told.
As you do this, you’ll surely hear difficult and painful things, some of which your own experience of life may cause you to privately dismiss or even deny. For this moment, at least, give the storyteller the benefit of suspended doubt—some call it faith—that lets you imagine trusting what you’re hearing.
If you’ll do this—or even try—you’ll have done the finest thing one believer can do for another. And you’ll have opened, at least a little, the conversations to which the Spirit is summoning Adventists on topics that easily divide us.
Imagine, if you can, listening to the African American architect who joined your congregation three months ago when his firm opened an office in your city. Let him tell you about the culture shock of worshipping week after week with a mostly White congregation that sings only from the hymnal and never says “Amen” above the 20-decibel range. Hear his pedigree in Adventism—four generations, dating to the Morning Star—much longer than your own. Watch his eyes light up as he tells you of sanctuaries he hopes someday to design—soaring, open structures in which no one ever thinks of ceilings.
Those who learn the most—and help the most—are always those who listen most.
Imagine, if you can, listening to that articulate young woman who sometimes teaches the Sabbath School class in the back right of the sanctuary. Hear her passion for this message, her deep delight in belonging to God’s end-time people. Give her time to tell you of how she wrestles with the Lord about her call to pastoral ministry—given what she knows of others on the road ahead. Let her tell you of her fears that if she follows that persistent call, she will face a future full of silent slights and professional discouragement. You don’t have to agree with her or “Amen” all her stories. You need only listen.
Imagine, if you can, listening to that 16-year-old who is usually last into the sanctuary and first to leave, most often during the closing hymn. He’ll likely not have much to say unless you ask him what’s playing in his wireless AirPods—the ones he hides beneath the mane of too-blond hair near his ears. Don’t assume that he knows the music of your life, or that his favorites are from Gaither or Chris Tomlin. But give him time enough—and ears—and he may tell you of the life he wants, a life you needn’t want nor even think is wise.
In this too-verbal age, we bide our time, imagining the things we’d say—about race relations, worship, women in ministry, culture, other generations—if only we could get the chance. We silently rehearse the speeches we think someone—maybe us—should make to set the record straight, fix what’s broken, bring a little order and some discipline. Our speeches all precede us, written on our faces, evident in gestures, plain to those who note with whom we congregate.
But conversations are as much a covenant to listen as to speak. And those who learn the most—and help the most—are always those who listen most, gathering the stories that aren’t like those they know.
Let’s make this month, this year, a time of listening, offering those whose stories differ from our own the chance to speak, and finally, be heard. We’ll all be richer for it—wiser, gentler, more like Jesus—becoming, at long last, the Body in which He loves to dwell.