Often when I find myself in conversations with relative strangers and the conversation has progressed beyond idle banter, I find myself listening more than I respond, other than asking questions for clarification. I do have a very bad habit of interrupting people, not because I am NOT listening, but what I hear inspires a flood of words and thoughts that are bursting to be expressed. I am surprised then when I find myself just listening.
In a recent conversation with such a stranger, a gentleman began to express his thoughts on things pertaining to God and the Bible. He was passionate about the conclusions he had drawn, based on in-depth research in all sorts of philosophies. He was angry in response to the things he had been taught pertaining to God and the Bible and was altogether indignant and ready to debate. Ironically, I could not debate him, for those things that pushed his buttons were things that I had never been taught by any teacher nor had I ever even contemplated on my own. It is hard to enter a debate when a) I was not on the opposing team and b) the other person was not in a place to receive new information. I decided just to listen.
He was frustrated at not having something concrete and factual to believe in, at not having an anchor for his spirituality; he balked at the idea of living by a Bible-based faith. “The Bible is full of errors and God is basically evil for giving us the gift of sex but then telling us we can’t have sex and for creating a heaven but then not letting us enter heaven. Who is God to say that we are sinful? Man is not sinful, man is simply human. There is no room for humanity in God’s economy.” He challenged me to consider all that he had to say and check if what I believe was actually based on facts that could be proven and yet he readily admitted his take on spiritual matters could not be proven as fact. How do you respond to someone who wants to challenge what you believe … when they haven’t taken the time to find out what you believe (as opposed to assuming and projecting)? Again, I decided just to listen.
Over the next few days, I learned that good morals were important to him. He stated that he was unhappy at having to lower his standard of living due to economic and personal circumstances. He anticipates great financial gain in the near future from his broad scope of investments and life will be better. He declared that he was very lonely and eager to find someone who “fit” his life. He was more motivated in life when he had someone to share it with.
He found it amazing that I had no anger or bitterness at being born with a handicap. He found it “different than most women” when I did not expect him to spend oodles of money on me, that I didn’t think “he owed me something”. He could not understand how I could “make it” on such limited income. He found a number of aspects about me to be intriguing which were totally opposite to his lifestyle, his experience with women and/or his knowledge of “religious people”.
Over the days following these conversations, in my thoughts I have replayed the different dialogues and each time I am as baffled as during the original discussions. His feelings of anger and frustration are understandable. There seems to be a lot of effort put into gaining position, prestige and power yet security remains an elusive dream. Circumstances have taken away his hope and his purpose–his identity. His ego spurred him on to share details of net worth and other personal matters to impress me. He speaks as if his life is like a house built on shifting sand. But if a person is frustrated and angry about not having an anchor spiritually, why would that person challenge another to step away from a sure foundation? Why encourage another to join you in anger, frustration and insecurity from a lack of hope, purpose or direction?
Yesterday all these details were my mental companion during lunch. As it happened, for lunch I had decided to throw discipline and caution to the wind and reward myself at one of my favorite places to eat, knowing full well that this is one of the deadliest places to eat as far as things pertaining to a healthy diet. Ignoring those facts, I thoroughly enjoyed two hot dogs “all the way”, with a small bag of potato chips and a 20 oz bottle of Mountain Dew. This morning, I woke up regretting my indulgence. My feet and ankles were swollen already upon awakening and it felt as if I had a concrete cinderblock permanently lodged under my rib cage. Yesterday, I ignored what I knew to be true, that there would be consequences for eating what I did. I wanted to eat what I wanted to eat. I wanted to have it my way. The fact of the matter is, that type of meal is no reward.
This morning, I woke up finally hearing what I had listened to–what this man may have tried to tell me. He wasn’t challenging me to abandon my beliefs of faith to adopt his search for facts. In reality, he is in search for acceptance, approval and significance.