I’ve been thinking lately about how incredibly important it is to see and hear others well to show and remind them how wondrously valuable they are. Do you ever struggle with that, or is it just me? I say this because recently I realized how I was consistently NOT hearing someone well, and how that theme has likely led to all sorts of anger and sadness in said person’s life. What is more, personally I remember one of my own greatest frustrations in life is when I’ve felt misheard and unvalued. Finally, I heard a dramatic twist on Jesus’ Prodigal Son Story that hammers home how loving and essential it is to see, hear, and value others well.
A few years ago in my quest to understand others, and myself, it occurred to me many of the ways we act out, treat others poorly, and such, stems from our own insecurities. The deeper our insecurity, the more our anger, sorrow, and such grows. From this place of uncertainty about ourselves, we treat others poorly in order to make ourselves feel better. I thought this was a pretty accurate and helpful way of coming to terms with some of the less than stellar ways I’ve treated others, as well as the habits of others.
While I still think my theory is pretty good and helpful, my wife Lisa brilliantly showed me it doesn’t go far enough the other day. As we debriefed a recent conversation I’d had over a glass of wine (the best way to debrief of course! :), Lisa concluded: “I think the biggest thing with this person is they just want to be seen, heard, valued, and respected.”
OH … MY … WORD I realized. She’s totally right and spot on! For better or worse, I’m conflict avoidant by nurture. I also strive to be “polite” and “nice”, which means when I disagree with someone I often smile, nod, and effectively tune her or him out, especially if our views are strongly different. With that in mind, Lisa’s incredible insight was even more of an “aha” moment for me because I realized how my smiling, nodding, and essentially tuning a person out truthfully devalues her, doesn’t see him, and doesn’t hear her.
I say that because when we ignore another person’s beliefs, values, strong convictions, and the like we’re basically saying he or she doesn’t matter, or matters less than others. Think of it this way: Say you’re a STRONG supporter of candidate A or religious figure B. Now, imagine you were telling a friend how amazing the candidate or religious figure is, and all you heard from your friend was “uh huh,” while seeing a disinterested look in your friend’s eyes. Conversely, imagine the same situation, only your friend says: “I really like ______ about that candidate/figure, and can really see how they bring good things and how you and him/her are a great fit.” Wouldn’t we feel devalued in the first situation and affirmed in the second?
Here’s my takeaway from Lisa’s insight: Especially when we disagree with something another person is passionate about, we should find ways to affirm the goodness of that belief, in order to encourage, buildup, and love the person. (Note, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t disagree or talk through the negative side of views, disagreeing well is VITAL, but that’s a different topic 🙂
Personally I can relate to this revelation on a couple of levels. For instance, there were times when I spent hours doing a bunch of work, YET instead of a “thanks” or “good job on ____”, all that was spoken of was how I missed X or did Y poorly. Talk about feeling unvalued. Likewise, there were other times when I voiced some important (to me) views to leadership, but my thoughts were barely (and sometimes never) acknowledged, let alone engaged. That said, the worst has been when I was misheard, miss-seen, and misrepresented by people close to me. Fortunately, it’s been long enough since that happened that no specific examples come readily to mind, but I think this illustration will show you what I mean. I’m a HUGE Seahawks fan (#gohawks), and these situations were basically as if someone who knew me well seriously from the bottom of his/her heart said to both myself and others I’m a 49ers fan. 😦
This leads me to Jesus’ famous story/parable about the Prodigal Son. 🙂 In short, it’s the tale of a father with two sons. The youngest asks for and gets his inheritance, moves away, wastes it all on wild living, and comes to the end of himself, before deciding to return home and beg his dad to forgive him and let him be a servant. The dad, however, runs to meet him, accepts him back as a son, and throws a big party to celebrate his return. At the end of the story, the eldest son enters the scene and is mad the father showed such extravagant grace to his brother. It concludes with the father inviting the eldest in to the party, saying all he has was always the son’s too, but we don’t find out what happened.
Generally, this story is understood as a parable about God. The father character is depicting the radical and amazing grace and love of our Creator. Part of the beauty of the Bible is much of it can truthfully and helpfully be interpreted multiple ways. Like the diversity of humanity, Scripture has a diversity of meaning. Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish New Testament professor and author, shed a new light for me on the Story of the Prodigal Son. While keeping our traditional reading/understanding of the story, let’s add this one:
The Prodigal Son parable is actually the third in a series of interrelated stories Jesus tells back-to-back-to-back in Luke 15. In the first tale he recounts how a shepherd had 100 sheep, noticed one was missing, searched for it, rescued it, brought it home, and celebrated. Likewise, a lady had ten coins, noticed one was gone, so searched, found it, and called her friends to party in celebration. The shepherd and lady saw, heard, and valued others incredibly well in these parables. It takes A LOT to notice 1 out of 100 sheep has gone missing!
Conversely, in the story of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells how when the youngest son came back to the dad, the father had his servants put on the biggest of parties. They slaughtered and cooked the calf, invited the whole village over for a party, and even got people to come and play music. It was not until AFTER the party was ALREADY raging that the eldest son came home, noticed what was going on, and asked a servant: “Why is there a party?” To kill, slaughter, and cook a cow takes a LONG time, which means the better part of a day had gone by since the youngest son returned WITHOUT the dad letting the eldest son know. The wine was pouring, the food was served, people were dancing, and so on, YET the eldest son had NOT been invited or even informed. In other words, A valuable and legit reading of these stories is to note how in going out of his way to value the youngest son, the father missed and undervalued the eldest son. Just put yourself in the elder sibling’s shoes, would you feel seen, heard, or valued?
Hearing that telling of the story from Dr. Levine pretty much blew my mind since I’ve heard this tale hundreds of times, but never with her take on it. That said, let’s end on a positive note! 🙂 In short, I’m inviting you and I to mindfully see, hear, and value people more. Let’s say encouraging things, tell people how amazing/beautiful/wonderful/courageous/kind they are, take time to really listen to what others care about, really and truly AFFIRM their views and passions, invite people to “parties”, and so on. People matter. YOU matter.
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Grace and peace,