Listen. Empathise. Love.

When was the last time you felt someone really understood you? We live in a culture where it’s all about me… yet, when was the last time that ‘me’ was really understood?

Do the politicians that service our nation make you feel like a valued part of the community? Does your boss value and treat you the way you ought to be treated? When your in public, or on the roads, do people treat you like like a valued member of the community?

To be honest, we have to look hard and wide in our community to find people who are selfless, generous, loving and caring. The problem could be two things. Either we are narcissistic and expect other people to be focused on us which leaves us feeling lonely, unwanted and/or misunderstood. Or everyone else is narcissistic in which case they are too self-centred to spend the time to get to know us in meaningful ways.

The reality is that neither of these options is 100% right or wrong. There are narcissistic people out there, and sometimes they’re us.

The result is we rarely feel like people get us. In fact, most of our time and energy is trying to understand ourselves, let alone others. So how can we expect anyone to really know us?

As a community we are actually quite bad at listening and understanding people. For the most part we haven’t mastered these arts yet. You might argue that’s what professionals such as counsellors and psychologists are for. But why do we need to venture out of our homes, sporting clubs and churches to be understood by another human. And moreover, it’s been my experience that many counsellors and psychologists see it as their job to ‘fix’ broken people, and they often feel that they can do that without having to waste time on understanding them.

It has left people in our community as detached from one another. There is a severe lack of engaging relationships. But do we have to settle for this substandard level of human interaction? Is there a way forward?

As a Christian I believe that the bible has some great, practical advice in this area. Now before you mash that back button, can I ask, wouldn’t it be nice if people would listen a little longer before they jam their advice down your throat? The bible says:

 “…let every person be quick to hear and slow to speak”.

It also says:

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame”.

Too often we want to fix the problem before we understand the problem. I’m certainly guilty of doing this. And I know I feel angry when people do it to me.

It can also feel like people offer us advice on how to climb out of a ditch without kneeling down to offer us a hand. It’s like they just don’t care. Some people make no effort to meet with us in our current position, but rather dish out advice from afar thinking they’re super-saviours.

The bible instructs people to show empathy and compassion for others. It says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

It also says:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Sometimes people can be well intended but by not taking the time to come alongside us, their advice is cold and sterile. Sometimes we just want a warm-hearted friend to journey with us. Offering advice is like marinating meat, without taking the time to prepare properly, the marinade is mostly wasted.

And finally, sometimes instead of advice, we just want to feel loved. We are sometimes so detached from the people around us, that a little TLC is all we need. But in our culture, it takes most of our time loving ourselves, let alone someone else. At most, we can love our family and a few select friends.

But the bible demands more of us than that. The bible shows that we can and should love everyone in our community. Before I became a Christian I spent most of my time trying to love a few key individuals, and most of all, trying to love myself. I failed on both accounts. I hurt most of the people around me, and never truly liked let alone loved myself.

But when I experienced God’s love for me. The real, practical, intense love of the Creator. I had a new perspective on love. I could love myself because it was no longer about how good or bad I was. I could love myself because it became about how good Jesus was. I was accepted by him no matter what I had done. In turn, instead of spending heaps of time doing things to satisfy myself, in could turn that time towards the people around me. And it wasn’t just quantity, it was quality. As I experienced God’s love for me, I was able to reflect that love to others.

We love because he first loved us.

This real, deep, affectionate love from God means I am free and able to love people without having my own agenda. I can love without expecting anything in return.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

It means I could take the time to listen, and really understand the people around me. I don’t have to fix all their problems right away, but I have the freedom to journey with them. To come alongside them. To love them as Christ has loved me. The difference is taking the time to know the people around you. Jesus models this type of love…

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

See the answer to not being listened to, to not being understood, is found at the cross. It is Jesus, who through the bible, shows us what pure love looks like. He shows us what it means to truly know the people he loves. Once we experience that genuine and flawless love we can express it to others. Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world was infused with this selfless love that seeks to really understand others and expects nothing in return.

TL;DR – Three things that will help our community understand each other better:

1. Listen Longer.
2. Emphasise Earlier
3. Love the way God Loves.

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