In working with people as a counselor I have learned important lessons about understanding others. Some people see deeply into people’s lives. They seem to be able to know others well, and are not shaken when they get conflicting messages from them.
This is not typically true.
An example of this in Scripture is found in Abraham’s life. By the time Abraham’s son Isaac was a young man, Abraham had learned important lessons about who God is. We can see this as we study Genesis 22 where we read of God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham had spent decades following God, and had gone through many different circumstances where he had trusted God, and others where he had not. God had revealed Himself to Abraham and Abraham had finally learned to trust God in spite of what we might call mixed messages. Abraham had come to a point of spiritual maturity in which he had come to know God over time and in many circumstances. He knew God’s character and had grown in his faith so that he was no longer tossed about by his doubts. James says in 1:5-7 that those who lack faith are tossed about by wind much like waves are. Abraham had become a man of faith who had come to know God well.
As I work with my clients I frequently talk about something I call “multiple frequencies”. This is one way to really get to know others well.
Wherever you are as you read this blog, you are bombarded by all sorts of messages being conveyed on many different “frequencies” or media. There are FM, AM, HD, Sirius, TV, and cell signals that are bouncing around us everywhere. If you have a translator properly tuned to the frequency you can hear and respond to the message.
There are so many messages that we cannot possibly hear and respond to them all. In the same way we are either not trained to listen to many of the messages bombarding us in relationship with others, or we tune them out. Our age is the age of information overload.
We are broadcasting constantly on all of the frequencies. One of the most widely used frequencies is vocabulary. This is a favorite for men. We know how to choose words and use them to communicate what we want to communicate. Many of the men with whom I work carefully choose their words and think that the only important messages they are sending are the words they say. If I question them on what they are saying they will re-direct me to the words they have used and believe that is the only message I should listen to.
When their words are in conflict with other messages they are sending they become irritated when I follow up with more questions.
What other messages am I listening to? The tone of voice they use. Their facial expressions. What they choose to talk about and what they do not choose to talk about. Where we are when we are talking. Who else is with us. What they are doing as they talk with me. We are broadcasting messages on many more frequencies than we are aware of.
If the messages are consistent with each other, we can take a great deal of confidence that what we are hearing is true and trustworthy. If they are not consistent, we have to choose which messages are true and which are not.
Abraham had come to know God well. When God gave him a message that was not consistent with what God had already revealed about Himself Abraham knew which messages to trust. He knew he could trust the promises and character of God that God had revealed over the decades Abraham had spent with Him. He was safe to obey the command to sacrifice Isaac because God was going to fulfill the promises He had made to bless the nations through Isaac. In Hebrews 11:17-19 we read that Abraham knew that if he did sacrifice Isaac, God was able to raise him from the dead and fulfill the promises He had made.
We can learn to listen to many frequencies and evaluate the consistency of the messages we hear. As we do this, we can grow in our confidence with others and we can deepen our ability to know others and relate with them deeply. We can experience levels of intimacy we have only dreamt about.
If we do not know how to hear the many messages we are often tempted, out of fear, to believe the worst. Abraham could have responded to God’s command to sacrifice Isaac by concluding that God had finally revealed his character in this heartbreaking command and rejected God as someone who had finally shown Himself in His willingness to rob Abraham of something most precious to him. Abraham could have decided that all the other things he had heard from God were untrue and that God did not really love him. I have many times in relationship with other people believed the worst about others when the messages I heard were not consistent.
Think about how you relate with others. Do you trust them because you have come to know them well and when you hear inconsistent messages you can sort out those which are untrue? Or, do you live fearfully and protect yourself by believing the worst about them and preventing them from hurting you? When we do that, we are keeping others at a distance and we cannot connect with them deeply. We cannot live in meaningful community this way, and we do not live as the people God has created us to be. We are also unable to be redemptive in the lives of those around us. We cannot get close enough to them out of our fear to be able to speak redemptively into their lives. Community cannot exist in a meaningful way if we live with this fear.
There is much more to say about this topic and I will do so in future blogs, but for now I encourage you to think about the many messages you receive and listen to the messages carefully so that you can develop the skill of knowing others well.