a call for empathy in an age of enmity + James 1:19 Bible Verse Coloring page


Last week, an author I follow on Instagram shared this experience: "When I tried to share about how I felt as a black female in a situation, they didn't want to hear it. It is terrible not to want to listen to a sister's heart, even when it could be hard. If we can't take the first and simple step of talking, there's little hope of racial harmony in the church. If we can't listen, we can't love. But there's hope and I'm always holding onto the hope of Jesus. No one can take that away."

(You can follow Trillia on Instagram @trillianewbell or on her blog here. She's also just written a super cute children's book about God's design in diversity).

I was struck by her words and thankful for her willingness to share. I hope that in this situation, I would have listened.

It's so easy for me to see blindness in others, but harder to see it in myself, harder to let God's light reach my own dark parts. But that's always where God has me start.
"If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make m a liar, an&d his word is not in us." (1John 1:8-10 ESV)
"Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:4-5 ESV)
I think I'm a pretty good listener . . . until I'm not.

I'll tell you when it's hard for me. It's hard when I feel judged. It's hard when I feel threatened or when someone challenges something I hold tightly. It's hard to listen when I can't solve something or make it better. It's hard when the conversation makes my uncomfortable or shakes my sense of rightness. It's hard when I realize the world can look so different from another point of view. I feel in over my head.

(By the way, that's likely why conversations about race make people of my color so uncomfortable. There's even a term for this kind of emotional breakdown reaction we experience until we develop a healthy resilience.)

So, my believing friends, what kind of listeners would Jesus have us be?

James writes to the church, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." (James 1:19-20, ESV)

To clarify, I'm not talking about compromising our convictions or playing loose with truth. I'm talking about hearing and listening to other human beings, and thus honoring the image of God in them. Remember, each person we encounter is someone "for whom Christ died" (See 1 Corinthians 8:11. I suppose to be precise, theologically, Christ died for those who would believe in Him, so this refers to believers, but everyone is a potential believer). 

I see so much more enmity than empathy in the church these days. I see such a quickness to speak, but not a quickness to listen and learn (including in myself). Empathy (which in Greek translates "in + feeling"), means "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another" (thanks Google). Antonyms include: coldness, detachment, violence, indifference, antagonism, unfeelingness, passiveness, revulsion, and spite (Thesaurus.com). 

I can almost hear Satan's cackle of delight as he divides wedges between believers who love Jesus, but are incredibly diverse. The Deceiver, the master of "fake news," peddles the lie that we must be either-or and nowhere in the middle. His marketing campaign is booming and he deals in tents for opposing camps. He scoffs at nuance and gentleness.
"Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand" (Philippians 4:5 ESV). 
How can we manage those gut-level reactions we have when listening induces stress, fear, and anxiety? 

Again, our example is Jesus. Jesus took all the anger, all the accusations, all the hate, without protest. And He was sinless. How much more can we, sinful as we are, absorb any measure of discomfort (small compared to His death) in our effort to love others? 
"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7 ESV)
Because our position in Christ is firm, we have no need to defend or prove ourselves. We have no need to prove that we are in the right in every situation because we already know we are sinful. We already know that Jesus had to die to forgive us. What accusation could anyone bring against us after that? We have no need to defend the high ground, because like Christ, we are to "empty ourselves" so that we can serve others and "win as many as possible" (Philippians 2:7 and 1 Corinthians 9:19).

Because of this, we are free to listen and grow. We have everything to gain by listening, including the hearts of those we hear.

This is where God is growing me, teaching me patiently to push past my own initial reactions and need to prove myself.  

Just listen, Mary. Learn. 


"Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'" 1 Peter 5:5
"Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." Ephesians 5:21

Like any area of discipleship, growing takes practice. We can build conversational resilience by listening to or following someone who will challenge our point of view. Listen to a believer that looks different than you and thinks differently than you. Read some history of this country from a point of view not commonly represented (I'm just finishing this book). Practice empathetic listening without attempting to solve or fix or advise. 

In this season in my country when racial tension is painful, let's give our brothers and sisters of color hope by our patient listening and willingness to talk and learn from them. Let's floor the outside world with our unwillingness to be angry and defensive. Sadly, that's not what they expect of us.

And maybe as we do this, we'll learn the patience and graciousness of our God with us.
"By this we know what love is: Jesus laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:17).

Today's printable Bible verse coloring page is from James 1:19. You can download your page by clicking on one of the options below!*

ENGLISH
SPANISH
BLANK (for use with other languages)

PRAYING the Word
Forgive us Lord for the many ways we fall short of your glory. Forgive us for be in quicker to speak than to listen. Make us salt and light in our broken culture. Make us ministers of reconciliation who "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things" (2 Corinthians 5:18 and Titus 2:10).

QUESTIONS to consider:
1. When do you find it hardest to listen?
2. How might you practice growing as a listener?
3. How does listening reflect the character of our God?
4. Do you think believers in our society known for their listening skills? 



*I'm so happy for you to enjoy my coloring pages and printables for your personal (not commercial) use! Use for Bible studies, church groups or events, and Sunday school classes are all fine! If you're in doubt, I'm happy to answer any questions. All artwork and photos are copyright Marydean Draws. If you share this, you're awesome (!), and as a courtesy,  please link back to this post and not the PDF file. Thank you!!



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4 comments

  1. Mary, I think this is helpful and wise. Thanks.

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  2. It's interesting. I was just recently having a conversation about how we need to listen and hear people on this issue. However , the other person I was talking to brought up a great point as well that goes broader than one issue. That is, in this current culture, listening doesn't seem to be enough. You can't just listen, you need to affirm everything the other person says as true or then they believe you haven't listened at all. In other words, if you disagree with something they say, you are accused of not listening or hearing. That struck me because I do see that in our culture, this idea that accepting another person isn't just hearing and respecting, but affirming everything they say and do. It's quite a challenge these days to make truth claims at all.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, there's also that issue, the "spirit of the age" that resists truth. We ought to expect that, right? Reminds me of 2 Timothy 4:3 (so it's nothing new). It makes me think that we need to press into Jesus, feed on his words, and be filled with His Spirit all the more so we can navigate these times as He would will. I feel like there's a "way of the cross" for us to walk through it, but it's a narrow way. I've been reading in 1 Corinthians 9 and wondering what it means for us, like Paul, to be a "servant to all" and "all things to all people" for the sake, not of their approval, but the Gospel. Nope, don't have that one figured out! Thanks for the thoughts Carissa!

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