By Bret Bernhardt
Having healthy conversations about what’s going on in the country was difficult before the wake of violence and political and social upheaval, and now they seem nearly impossible.
As followers of Jesus working on the Hill we should be engaging in meaningful conversations as we unpack what is taking place and look to the future.
The goal of these conversations is not to change someone’s thinking, although that may happen. Rather, it is to provide a space for the Lord to do a work in our hearts and minds, as well as that of others.
These conversations are for our own well-being as well as to help others as they grapple with their thoughts and feelings. But, how do you do this when opinions are so deeply divided?
As you consider these conversations think of them in terms of the types of relationships you have. For example, there are relationships in which you share a common understanding of your faith and its implications in life.
There are others, particularly on the Hill, in which you share a political or ideological viewpoint. And there are family and friends in whom you share a lasting bond of relationship and common history.
Conversely, there are relationships that are the inverse of the above, including those in which you have differing views, down to the most fundamental elements.
Now, think of these groups of relationships as ladders, each representing one of your relationship groups. For example, one ladder represents those relationships in which you share a common biblical worldview. This may be the first ladder you climb in your conversations.
That is not to suggest that it makes the ladder easy to climb. There are broad divisions even among Spirit-filled believers as to the application of our faith in this season. Therefore, it’s important to take one conversation at a time, each represented by a rung in the ladder.
“As you consider these conversations think of them in terms of the types of relationships you have.”
As you progress up this metaphorical ladder, one rung at a time, the conversations broaden in scope and potential differences. In fact, you may stay on the first rung with a number of conversations until you feel comfortable taking the next step up the ladder. But that’s OK.
As we know from real world experience, reaching for a rung well overhead doesn’t always work out well. Be careful about entering into conversations prematurely before you’ve built a foundation upon which to have them.
And, if you reach a little too far and fall back down, that’s OK as well. Just begin the process again until you can grab it more firmly next time having secured your “footing” and “grip.”
This laddering of conversations may also apply in situations with only one person. In this case, you begin the conversation on the solid ground of unanimity and then succeeding conversations (rungs) to areas of disagreement once you’ve established a foundation of trust and understanding.
Jesus understood the importance of the progressive nature of conversations. He was aware of both the audience and the message. His use of parables was an excellent way of laddering conversations with the many as well as His disciples.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” – James 1:19
In describing this type of conversation, He said, “Therefore, every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” — Matthew 13:52
He had one level of conversation with the crowds, and another level with his disciples.
“And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples.” — Mark 4:34
In the case of Jesus’s conversations, He always held the moral high ground, which is not always the case with us. Therefore, we must practice active listening, especially as we climb our ladder.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” — James 1:19
We must also deal with our anger before entering a conversation. While it’s not always possible or even advised to rush into a conversation, it is essential that you are right before the Lord before it gets the better of you.
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” — Ephesians 4:26, 27
As we climb the ladders of our relationships and acquaintances, we will reach the top and in turn move on to progressively more challenging climbs.
When you look back on your conversations, it will serve as a testimony to God’s love and goodness even in the most difficult times.
Bret Bernhardt served on the Hill as chief of staff to senators Don Nickles of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina. He is now a member of the board of directors of Faith & Law and the Conservative Partnership Institute.