Listen!

I was challenged recently to do this: when someone tells you their story, listen and believe them. It sounds really simple, but it’s hard.

It’s hard when the story involves you, either directly or indirectly.

It’s hard when it threatens your own worldview.

It’s hard when the story challenges your ideas about the way things work.

After Urbana, a 16,000-student missions conference I staffed last week, it was hard for many to stomach an evangelical ministry embracing Black Lives Matter. In my counseling office, I see people every day who will not believe the story their spouse, child, parent, or friend tells them. Yesterday I heard yet another story of a sexual assault victim who was scolded by the first two people she told for “letting this happen”. Many trauma victims are more traumatized by the reactions of others to hearing of their trauma than by the trauma itself. How can we all help change this narrative?

It is scary and threatening, but it may be our only hope towards healing. How can it look? I lean on the wisdom of Erna Stubblefield:

We say, “tell me more” rather than disputing someone else’s story.

We lean in, rather than pushing back and away.

And I’d add the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, in his famous prayer, who prayed, “O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek so much . . . to be understood as to understand.”

To believe another’s story requires us to let go of our own, at least a little. If someone tells us we hurt them, can we let go of our need to be right and listen? If someone tells us they were hurt by our society/institutions can we let go of our need to believe those things serve everyone equally and believe?  Can we do it?

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