I was recently in a men's small group setting when the leader asked, "Does anyone have any thoughts or questions?" After an extended awkward silence, one of the the guys we'll call "Joe" spoke up: "I'm afraid", he said. "I'm engaged and I'm afraid of getting married." As Joe took a breath before continuing, the leader jumped in and began what seemed like a five minute rambling monologue on how fear of marriage is normal and reasonable, every guy has it, he had it, don't be surprised by it, and you just have to seek God for strength to push past it. My immediate thought was, "STOP TALKING! Why don't you ask him what he's afraid of ?!" I was frustrated, annoyed and convicted. I'm sure I've done the same thing to many innocent victims. I'm often much more concerned about blessing people with my "wisdom" than I am about patiently taking a journey into the depths of their heart to discover their real need.
I emailed Joe the next day and invited him to get together some time. He gladly accepted and we met for lunch later that week. After a few minutes of small talk, I gently steered the conversation toward our last meeting. "You shared that you were afraid of getting married. Do you mind me asking what your specific fears are?" As Joe eagerly opened up and began to share his story I was taken back. Although he grew up around church and "prayed the prayer" as a child, Joe truly put his faith in Christ when he hit rock bottom just a few years ago. After a drug and alcohol fueled binge that left him unconscious and unemployed, Joe reached out to his brother for help. Not long after they talked, he surrendered his life to Jesus and was baptized. He went to a Christian rehab, joined a Christian recovery group and things seemed to be going great. Then there was the relapse. In the midst of the chaos, his now fiancé became pregnant with their daughter. In response to my original question, Joe said that he is afraid he wouldn't be marrying her if they didn't have a child together. He also fears what might happen if he relapses again. On top of all of this, his brother, who led him to Christ and taught in the marriage ministry at his church, is now separated from his wife. Initially, all I could say was, "Wow. Thanks for sharing." I was so glad I asked "Why?"
Does Joe have anything to be afraid of? Absolutely. Does he just need to push past his fear and pray for strength? Absolutely not!
Humbled, I eventually responded with a few ideas about his current situation, but mostly thanked him for his honesty and asked if we could get together again soon. "Definitely", he replied. I hope to share some suggestions with Joe about how to successfully pursue a Christ-centered sobriety and to help him wrestle with his questions about his engagement. But most of all I hope to continue to be his brother; his asking and listening brother.
When we don't ask "why" we are like a doctor who doesn't interview the patient or listen to their symptoms. People's issues are generally far more complex than we realize. Our diagnosis of their problem will most likely be as accurate as the amount of our research. How many times have I been guilty of quickly responding with a Christian cliché or slapping a Bible verse on someone's situation without knowing the full story?
When Jesus, encountered a blind beggar He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?”(Mark 10:46-52) Jesus clearly knew this man's problems and needs, yet He still took time to ask and listen. There are many more examples where Jesus begins His ministry to people by asking questions. Can you think of a few? If the Son of God cares enough to ask and listen, shouldn't we?
I want to ask more questions. I want to listen without waiting for a chance to speak. I want to know people beyond the surface. I want to be better at helping them at their true point of need. I want to be more like Jesus, don't you?
To learn more about asking and listening, check out this recent post on my friend Zach Nielsen's blog: "The Evangelistic Power of Listening"