Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: listening

I want to live until I die

Age segregation begins in schools. As schools get bigger and bigger it is more and more difficult for a child to relate to those outside her own age group. At the other end of life, retirement offers freedom, but it is freedom with no purpose. Retirees associate with other retirees and strive to keep themselves amused. Eventually they go into retirement homes, which isolates them still more from other age groups. Then they go to nursing homes. As more people require nursing home care, those places become larger and more impersonal. I believe this is a recipe for dementia.

I have painted a pretty bleak picture and we all know people who have stepped out of that flow and lived a meaningful life in their older years. The way people cope with the aging process is a personal choice. Many don’t know what else to do but be carried along with the flow. I don’t want to be in that number. I want to live until I die.

I want to feel that there is a purpose to my life, that I am doing something useful to others, even as I withdraw from the workforce. To accomplish that, I will need to maintain a healthy body, a healthy mind and a healthy heart.

To have a healthy body I need to keep physically active. That doesn’t happen naturally any more, it has to be a deliberate choice. Walking is the best way to keep active, it is low impact and stimulates the whole body. But where I live, for about half of the year it is not very inviting to go out for a walk. So I need a treadmill or a rebounder. Regular, vigorous exercise maintains the health of the heart, the lungs, and the brain.

Having a healthy mind also requires making the choice to exercise it. Doing puzzles and word games is one form of mental exercise, but that is not enough. To prevent my mind from becoming fossilized I need interaction with other people, especially people who do not see everything in exactly the way that I see it. That means children, youth, all ages, plus people of different backgrounds and different life experiences. I need to read books that stretch the mind and help me see the world from a new perspective.

Above all, I need a healthy heart, in the spiritual sense. To maintain the peace and joy of being a Christian also requires exercise. That includes reading and meditating on the Word of God, not just an assortment of favourite passages, but the whole thing, in order to get the whole picture of what God has to say. It includes prayer, not just for myself and my family, but for others — friends, acquaintances, those in authority and those who are not so friendly. That is a very healthy exercise, the more we pray for others, the harder it becomes to say nasty things about them.

As I become more serious about writing, I am challenged to convey my thoughts in a way that is provocative, informative, and sometimes humorous. I need to exercise myself to recognize and avoid trite statements, pat phrases and slogans that no one outside of my bubble will understand. Above all, I need to speak the truth in love, with compassion and without biting criticism.

As a writer, there are times when I need to be alone in my cave in order to get words onto paper. But in order to have words to write, to know what to write and how to write in a way that will interest somebody else, I need to get out of that cave and be with people, all kinds of people. I need to talk to people, listen to people, observe people. The best anti-aging treatment that I know of is people. People who jar my thinking out of its customary rut and help me see things and understand things I would not think of on my own.

Having fun is not the purpose of our life.

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Happiness is often confused with having fun. But ask yourself, isn’t the root of your desire for fun a wish to have your attention diverted from your problems, at least for a moment? To feel a constant need for amusement, entertainment, or recreation is self-defeating and even self-destructive.

If our happiness is dependent on what other people do, or on other people leaving us alone to do our own thing, they will always disappoint us and spoil our fun.

What is happiness? Isn’t it a feeling of contentment, a sense that things are going well? That’s what we really long for, isn’t it? It is not popularity, or a belief that everybody admires me, or envies me. “Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain.”

To paraphrase Solomon: “He that loveth fun shall not be satisfied with fun; nor he that loveth excitement with extreme thrills.” Fun will always disappoint us, we can never get enough to satisfy us.

The only reasonable thing to do then is to abandon all attempts to make ourselves happy and do our utmost to make others happy. Even then, happiness does not depend on the thankfulness of the other person, though that is sometimes an added benefit. It is quite alright if our kindness goes unnoticed, unseen by others.

Neither does happiness lie in slapping a band aid on someone’s wound, going my way and congratulating myself on what a good fellow I am. Helping someone else starts with listening. That may become painful and messy, but they need someone to listen. Sometimes that is all we can do. Sometimes that is enough.

True happiness lies in knowing that we have done something to make life a little better, a little less painful, for someone else. It is the feeling that we have done what we could.

Silence like a cancer grows

Paul Simon was right. Hidden amidst the noise that permeates our daily lives – the noise of our appliances, the hum of our computers, traffic noise, telephones, sirens, music, celebrations, protests, news – there is a pernicious silence. No one dares talk of the things that are churning in their heart. It’s just not done, no one wants to hear. We face this invisible barrier – the sound of silence.

Thoughts come silently – “you’re not good enough,” “you don’t matter,” you’ll never make it,” “nobody likes you.” They become voices that echo incessantly in waking moments, in dreams. They can’t be escaped, they are tormenting demons. But everyone has their own demons and they don’t want to hear about yours. Silence like a cancer grows.

There is an epidemic of suicide, no one quite understands why.

What is a Christian to do? The old gospel message doesn’t resonate with people of the 21st century. Some say we need to make it more relevant, make ourselves more relevant, make ourselves heard.

Sure, let’s grab our megaphomes and join our voices to the cacaphony out there. Do you think anyone will hear? Do you think anyone wants to hear what Christians have to say?

Nobody is listening. Not even the Christians. That is the problem. Rather than trying to make ourselves heard, could we try to help others make themselves heard?

Let’s open our hearts, our minds, our ears to hear the words that no one else wants to hear. We’ll hear a lot of stuff that might make us cringe and want to stop our ears, but if we listen long enough someone might trust us enough to show where it really hurts.

And if we can bear to listen, that person might even give us permission to open our mouths and tell of the healing balm of Jesus’ blood.

The myth of incompetence

“It’s just not my gift to witness to other people about my faith. I get all flustered and nothing comes out right. Other people can do it, but I just can’t.”

Have you ever said something like that? I don’t know if I’ve ever said it, but I’ve certainly felt that way. After experiencing those feelings for many years, a little light began to flicker in my mind and the illumination has increased with time. I have been comparing myself with the wrong people all along. I have looked enviously at people who were smooth-talking and self-assured and thought that I needed to become like them. At the same time, just being around them made me feel inadequate.

There is good news for me, and you, and all the other believers who feel inadequate. Those people we envy and wish to emulate may not be the most effective witnesses for the Lord. We can do it. We can visit about most anything else, why not about the thing that is most important in our life?

The way we listen is more important than the way we talk. The questions we ask are more important than the answers we give, because our questions reveal whether or not we are really interested in the person we are talking to.

Being a good witness for the Lord has to start with noticing the people around us and being interested in them. Show some interest in the people who serve you in stores, coffee shops and restaurants. If you see them frequently, get to know their names, ask them about their family or how their day is going. Don’t be nosy, just friendly. Take time to visit with people, find what their interests are.

Eventually you may sense an opportunity to go a little deeper. Don’t be pushy, let the Holy Spirit guide you. Ask questions, listen, be sympathetic, but don’t be too quick to jump in with suggestions on how to fix things that aren’t working out in their lives. At some point the Spirit my prompt you to share a personal experience. Tell it simply, giving honour to God and not yourself.

Be patient. Keep trying a little friendliness with people you meet. If we come across as superior or pushy, people will clam up, or push back. We might then conclude that the people around us are not interested in the gospel and there is no purpose in trying to talk to them. If we hold back and don’t make small efforts to reach out to others, we come to the same conclusion.

It is comfortable to think that there is no use trying. The Holy Spirit really doesn’t want us to get comfortable with that kind of thinking. That may lead us to direct our efforts into materialism and recreation beyond what is healthy for our spiritual life.

The Holy Spirit wants us to step out beyond our comfort zone, but He is only going to ask us to take one little baby step at a time. We may find that those baby steps take us a long way, into territory that we used to think was completely inaccessible. A little effort can open up whole new vistas for us.

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