“Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” – Andrew Stanton
So much of my job is spent in a state of utter helplessness, because so much of my job is spent in conversation with people. People are difficult. Teenagers are difficult. Sometimes they cuss you out or punch each other or roll their eyes when you’re talking to them. They do this even when you’re a Very Important Prevention Educator like me, taking the time out of my Very Important Schedule to dispense priceless wisdom they will need for the rest of their lives. Honestly, they just don’t always seem to care about how Very Important I think I am.
This bothers me. There are times I am so offended that I’m not being heard, I feel like giving up. I take it personally when the teens I’m working with seem checked out. I get so caught up in being heard that I forget how to listen.
In his infinite kindness, God will sometimes shut my mouth. In his grace, he will stop me from telling a story about myself and give me a question to ask instead. When that happens—the miracle of shutting up– I am always humbled by what I hear. The pain carried inside each human soul is staggering, and it takes my breath away every time God reminds me I’m not the only one with a story to tell.
The girl who told me to shut up after I complimented her outfit has been the victim of sexual assault more times than she can count. Her cold stare is the armor she’s worn since childhood.
The boy who flipped me off on the first day of class has been abandoned by both his parents, and he’s just trying to survive the next 24 hours.
What about the pregnant high schooler with a bored expression who refuses to make eye contact with me? If I shut up long enough, she eventually opens up and shares that she has a hard time focusing because she’s exhausted to her bones. She’s losing sleep because her parents are always fighting and there isn’t enough food in the house.
It’s so much easier to believe the worst about people. The flesh so satisfied when it’s yapping about itself. But when we refuse to shut up, we are missing out on the opportunity to love people. What we need is a work of God to make us slow to speak, slow to anger, and quick to listen (James 1:19).
Jesus knows what it’s like to be mocked, ignored, and cursed. We did it to him as we crucified him, and he met us with grace upon grace. My challenge to you (and to myself) is to extend this astounding grace we’ve received to the hurting people in our midst, by practicing the miracle of shutting up.