How to begin having loving & difficult conversations
"A seat at the table." With all the tensions in the air, there's a lot of talk about making room at the table for people of all walks of life. The hope is that by encouraging people with differing worldviews and experiences to come together that there would be understanding and empathy. That safe spaces would be created for big discussions. Conversations about race, religion, suffering, politics—okay, big, BIG discussions.
But how do we begin? How do we take the talk and make it work? What if you have a heart for reconciliation and safe conversations, but aren't in a community where this can happen? How do you take the commission to love one another and apply it to your own life?
Prayer & Humility
First, I'd like to offer what may seem too simple or cliché in our postmodern world—prayer.
Even though it may sometimes seem rote, the importance of prayer can't be overstated. How else are we to come with a soft heart ready to listen and be slow to speak without prayer? How are we to come ready to have empathy, even if we don't yet understand? How are we to engage fully and lovingly if we absolutely disagree? I don't see any other way than to start with prayer. Actually, to start, finish, then sit and soak in prayer.
We are so weak. I AM SO WEAK. I know that if it were left up to me, on my own, there would be no way that I could have conversations this sensitive, this close to heart. But with prayer? With prayer I have a triune God on my side that says, you have nothing to fear, you have nothing to lose, you have nothing to gain, you have nothing to defend ... it's all on Me. What foundation could be better for times like these?
Hand in hand with prayer—humility. Whew, this is a hard one. But you know humility when you see it. It's attractive. You want to be around humble people. People who have a quiet power about them because they aren't consumed with moving forward their own agenda.
If we are truly looking at Jesus in prayer and saying, "Okay, God, I know I can't do this alone, You know I can't do this alone, and yet I'm still here with hands raised giving these conversations and opportunities to you," and again, with a mindset that is centered around, "I have nothing to fear, I have nothing to lose, I have nothing to gain, I have nothing to defend," there comes a Christ-like humility, a humble boldness that gives us strength to start, and grace to keep going.
Then, we must act. Through prayer, we can ask God to lead us toward those small starts. Those grocery clerks who need a smile. Those retail workers who need your kindness. Then those people at our work who need us to listen. Those families in our church who need childcare or financial help. Then there will come people who God will ordain for you to meet who don't look like you, sound like you, have your finances, have your political views, have your past experiences, or sometimes, even care who you are. When those times come, you will have laid a foundation of prayer and humility and past obedience in the small things. When those times come, we must be ready to act.
I so often get overwhelmed when I think about my whole town, state, country and world needing the love of Jesus. But when I start small, with just prayer and humility, I can see the seat at my own table as one that needs filled first. My own heart that needs the love and grace and mercy of Jesus. Then I can extend that seat to another, then another.
So pray. Seek humility by looking at the life of Jesus. Then look at your own heart and see where you need that same listening ear and gracious word, then start small.
The last thing I would offer is to stay curious. Keep learning. They may say, "You don't know what you don't know," and that's true on a logical (if not obvious) level. I've said it often. But every day we have an opportunity to continue to learn and grow and expand our worldview, which is incredibly limited.
Know whose you are and rest in that, but also know who you are. I am a young, white, Christian woman. A wife and a mother of two boys. I work full-time. I come from a flawed but stable family, grew up in church, and went to small schools with very little diversity. I have also lived all my life in relatively small towns in the South. Just knowing those things gives me a starting place for things I need to learn more about—i.e. anything that's the opposite of or not on that list.
I need to seek out resources and people that can help me learn more about and better understand other races, single women, divorced women, barren women, women who choose not to have children, women who've had an abortion, women who've adopted children, women who work at home, women who work full-time raising kids and managing their home, homeschooling moms, people of other religions, people from broken homes, people from other geographic locations. That's one paragraph and already an incredibly long list.
If we look beyond the surface, we'll see that we have so much work to do. This is where, for me, it always begins to spiral into overwhelm. But then I go back to the beginning. I pray, I ask for humility. I start small.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
If you're looking for a few resources to start digging in, these are a few that have meant much to me over the past few years:
Be the Bridge - https://bethebridge.com/get-started/
The Gospel Coalition courses - https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/courses/
The Reason for God series, Tim Keller - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50j2kjlrx-4&list=PL-8gf6dLfj1LKryxAXx3BMj4gv6ni7Tsv
The Center for Faith & Work - https://faithandwork.com/
IF:Table - https://www.ifgathering.com/host-if-table/