Earlier this year I started a Beth Moore Bible Study covering the Psalms of Ascent. She talked about how we were going to go on a pilgrimage in this study, and in one of the first lessons, she asked us to describe in one word how we were feeling at the onset and write it down on the first step in a staircase (illustrated in the back of the Study Guide). And the word I chose was “misunderstood“. Sometimes I feel like I’m still on that step.
Unfortunately, due to some other factors (both good and not so good), I was unable to continue keeping up with the study. I did my homework here and there and I attended a few of the video viewing sessions, but I never went through all the lessons to get to the top of the staircase. I may revisit that study guide again some time, but for now I’ve set it aside.
I sat down here at my computer screen to share what’s been on my mind, but I’m feeling more inclined to share what’s on my heart at the moment. I hope you’ll bear with me.
A long time ago, I learned a way to read through the book of Proverbs every month. There’s 31 chapters and each month has either 30 or 31 days (except for February). I was taught to read whichever chapter in Proverbs correlated with the date of the month. For example, today’s the 9th, so I would read Proverbs 9. If I did this every day, I would go through the whole book almost 12 times in a year. I’d like to say I still do that, but I don’t. I’m not as systematic as I used to be in my reading.
Anyway, in my youth when I read Proverbs a lot more regularly, there’s one concept that got stuck in my mind that I have carried with me all of my life. And that is to “seek understanding“. I would say, that is a defining characteristic of mine. I’m not perfect at it, but I truly do try to make that a daily part of my life.
An Illustration from Daily Life: Driving Down the Road
When I’m driving down the road, and the person slows down in front of me for no apparent reason. I don’t typically get mad at them, because I realize there can be a half dozen (or more) reasons for their slowing down that I’m not seeing. The kids could be fighting in the back seat, the cell phone could be ringing and they never use it so maybe it’s an emergency call coming in, the driver could be emotionally upset about something causing their mind to wander from the speedometer, etc. I have empathy for them, because I know I’ve been there myself.
Now my husband does not exhibit the same emotional response as I do when someone slows down in front of him when he’s driving. That’s because he’s looking at the situation from his perspective at that moment and hasn’t taken the time to understand the perspective of the other driver. If he had known the other driver just lost her husband in a car wreck at that same location, and she slows down around that stretch of road out of habit, he might not have the same reaction.
The point of this illustration is I find we behave a lot differently when we take the time to seek understanding in a situation than we would otherwise. Then there’s the demonstration of love.
Another Illustration: A Simple Conversation
We all know what it’s like to be in a conversation with someone who is just waiting for their turn to talk. We’ve all been that someone ourselves, myself included. But then we’ve also been in conversations with someone who is listening, trying to understand what we’re saying, before formulating a response. And I imagine most of us have been that someone at one point or another as well.
I believe one difference between the two scenarios (if you’re not the “someone”) is an opportunity to demonstrate love and wisdom. Let me explain.
A Personal Weakness
One of my weaknesses is finishing other people’s sentences. Someone will be speaking to me, and I think I know what they’re saying, so instead of letting them finish their own sentence when there’s a pause, I help them by finishing it for them. I think I’m relaying to them that I understand what they’re saying and I’m able to relate or identify with them, so I tell them where I think they’re going in their communication. Now, that might be how it’s perceived by the other person. But then again, it can also be seen as very irritating and rude. (I know, because I’ve been that “someone” on the other end and have felt both responses.)
I’ve also experienced firsthand in many of my “helping” moments that I was way off. I thought I knew where the conversation was going or that I was on the same vein with the other person, but then I would quickly realize how off I really was. Let me tell you, it can be quite embarrassing sometimes. So, I try to do my best to hold my tongue and let the other person finish speaking, at the very least. And then, I try to make a conscious effort to process what they’re saying before I respond.
Listened To vs Being Heard
Then, there’s the understanding part. It’s one thing to experience that feeling of “someone is listening to me”, it’s a whole other ball game to experience that feeling of “being heard”. The difference is what goes on within the receiver between the eardrum and the brain.
I share this to say that I’ve found when we take the time to not only listen to what others are saying, but actually make an effort to understand what they’re saying from their perspective, we are demonstrating both love (that we care what they have to say and want to understand their perspective) and wisdom (because not everything is as it appears on the surface).
Having said all that, when I found myself starting my pilgrimage with Beth Moore’s study guide, I had been going through a major paradigm shift in my understanding of Scripture. In my attempt to share what was happening in my life with those I loved around me, I was not feeling the love and wisdom found in being heard, but rather I was feeling “misunderstood”.
Certainly, I’m not the only one that feels that way at one point or another in life.
Loving Beneath the Surface
I believe this is where the rubber meets the road in loving relationships. I believe if we fail to take the time to “seek understanding” with the ones we love, we fail to seize an opportunity to demonstrate depth in our love for them.
I used a phrase not that long ago to describe a group of people: “a superficial lovefest“. And it’s because I felt there was a huge lack of understanding being sought within a group of loved ones. I ended up apologizing for the comment, because I realized there were a few who I believed genuinely sought understanding, and I didn’t want to hurt them. People aren’t always going to understand everything we go through in this life, even when they seek to do so, but the mere fact that they’re willing to try goes a really long way.
When People Fail Us
There is a God who not only listens to every word we utter, but He hears us. Unlike our fellow man, He does understand everything we go through in this life. He understands everything there is to know about us. And He loves us more than we can fathom. I take incredible comfort in this.
For those who don’t know Him, His name is YHWH. He’s the Creator of heaven and earth, and He formed us in our mothers’ wombs. He’s the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and I as a non-Jew have chosen to serve Him. He’s my Heavenly Father, and He can be yours, too.
Unfortunately, unlike Him, mankind is flawed and because of our impurity, we have been cast from His presence. But He loves us and longs to be in relationship with us. So He made a way for us to enter into His presence. This required the shedding of blood.
The Old Testament lays out a sacrificial system for the atonement of our sins. Lambs and rams were slain on behalf of the people, but that wasn’t enough.
God provided a better sacrifice, the Lamb of God, His only begotten son, Yeshua, commonly referred to as Jesus. It is through his shed blood, that we have forgiveness for our impurity. When we turn from our impure ways and accept the shed blood of the Lamb of God for our shortcomings, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all our unrighteousness.
He teaches us the way to live…it is found in His Word. When we die to our way of doing things, and live according to his way of doing things, we experience life, the way we were created to. I encourage you to get a hold of a Bible and start reading from the beginning in Genesis. It is a beautiful story, and it will change your life…if you want it to.
For those who do know Him, I pray we all not go through life in a superficial lovefest, but rather we aim to love others more deeply, seeking understanding in our relationships. I pray this for myself as well.