Openness

The Case for Being Closed
I was raised in a church tradition that almost discouraged openness.  We were taught (by some very well-intentioned people, I should say) that we have to be careful what we allow ourselves to be open to.  After all, evil (the devil) was around every corner.  That’s Biblical, right?

1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Isn’t this all we need to establish a policy of closing ourselves off to people who scare us, ideas that threaten us, and places that might soil us?  I don’t think so at all.  This passage was specifically addressed to “young men” in the church, and Peter is warning them to keep control of themselves.  No doubt you can imagine many ways in which young men often struggle to maintain self-control.  Peter is warning these young men not to be foolish.  There are legitimate dangers and evils in the world.  Young men tend to not realize this, and often approach the world in a foolhardy way.

Openness as a key aspect of spiritual maturity
But nowhere does Peter ever suggest that we not remain open, or that we refuse to listen to people who have ideas that we disagree with.  In fact, openness is a key aspect of mature spirituality.  The person who always half-listens to people, and then tunes them out as soon as they say something he/she does not agree with will never move on to maturity.  Mature spirituality is always open.  This does not mean that the genuinely mature person will agree with everything they are told.  What it means is that they don’t rush to judgment.  They feel no need to make an immediate pronouncement of things as black or white, right or wrong, complete or incomplete, beautiful or ugly, appealing or appalling.

Every appropriate No begins with a Yes
This hesitancy among the mature to rush to immediate decisions and judgments is not lack of backbone or indecisiveness.  It is character.  The wise person knows that there is good in all things and bad in all things.  When we habitually rush to pronounce people and ideas bad or good, right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable, we are refusing to see the whole picture.  In fact, it is probably not incorrect to say that the only appropriate “No’s” begin first with a “Yes.”  That is, before we can say a valid “No” to something, we have to have really listened — been open to the person or idea in front of us — allowed them to truly speak their mind and be heard.  How many times have you heard politicians debating one another and sensed it was a waste of time, because you know neither of them is open to being swayed by the other, but each is merely trying to prove his/her point?  That is how we communicate with each other 95% of the time.  Anytime someone is talking to you, you are not truly listening unless you are open enough to allow this person the possibility of changing your mind.

Carrying the Tension
Have you ever had the experience of trying to share something exciting with someone, but you were “shot down” before you even finished what you had to say?  As soon as the listener felt uncomfortable with your idea, or disagreed with it, or felt it would be harmful to you or someone else, they felt compelled to cut you off and correct you.  Don’t you hate that?  Everyone does!  Maturity means remaining open; carrying the tension we may feel while someone puts forward an opinion or idea we do not  like; postponing judgment and comment until we have truly listened, truly been open, truly tried to see the world from that person’s perspective.  When we are doing this, many times we will realize there’s simply no need to agree or disagree at all.  Most of the time people aren’t seeking our agreement or disagreement — just our loving openness to them, which we give by listening in silence.

Love
What is the most important quality of an effective doctor, teacher, or counselor?  They must be a good listener, and to truly listen well requires openness. When people leave a counselor’s office feeling deeply heard and deeply safe, they feel deeply loved.  Love is extending ourselves for the benefit of others.  The best way to love is to listen, and the only way to listen is to develop a habit of remaining open.

CHALLENGE: This week, as people are talking to you, monitor yourself for feelings of discomfort or disagreement that might normally cause you not to remain open but to interrupt, jump to an opinion or judgment, or even roll your eyes dismissively.  You can feel that welling up inside of you, and my challenge is to catch it before your eyes roll, or your head shakes, or your mouth opens.  Be open.  Let the person talk.  Listen to their idea.  Don’t sit and cultivate your list of objections.  Practice withholding your opinion entirely unless someone specifically seeks it out.  In this way you will cultivate genuine openness and people will come to see you as a great listener.  When you are seen by people as a great listener, people will feel loved by you.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Vicki

    I just experienced that feeling of being “shot down” as I was sharing some thoughts with a fellow Believer and friend. These thoughts were outside the fundamental belief system that we both grew up in (Free Methodist and Nazarene). I’ve been excited about exploring some deeper ideas regarding the life of Jesus and have heard some excellent teaching that challenges my usual interpretation of certain parables and words Jesus spoke while he walked on this earth. This teaching has simply “opened” me up to considering and thinking in, what I call, “wider ways”. I certainly do not feel that this thinking threatens my belief in Jesus/God/Holy Spirit at all, but enriches it and moves me closer to the heart of God. But it does sound somewhat radical as I try to fumble my way through verbalizing these thoughts with my friends. Perhaps I need to widen my scope of friends so that they come from more diverse backgrounds….people who might listen and wrestle with me as I think about these new ways of thinking. Likewise, I see where I have also been the one in the past to “shoot down” those ideas that were radically different from what I had held on to for so long; wrongly judging the person (or people) who shared them. I’m still learning to “open-up” and consider other people’s ideas, opinions, convictions, etc., and learning to listen more intently. And that includes listening to those, now, whose ideas and words sound very legalistic and shallow to me without feeling compelled to challenge them, but rather simply listen to them and understand that this is their experience with God and let them feel loved and accepted so that the faith journey in their lives will continue to unfold and widen in the way it was meant to for them.

    • Great response, Vicki. I especially love the thing at the end about learning to listen openly to people whose words now sound legalistic and shallow. It’s so easy to think we have moved “beyond” a certain mindset and have nothing left to learn from those who are still there.

  • Hi Brianne. Thanks for commenting. Totally fantastic to be firm in doing what you said you would do. And totally great to listen and to be open to what our children have to say before we follow through with discipline. Because parents so often rush into follow-through, we sometimes make mistakes and punish our children where no punishment was in fact necessary. There will almost never be a price to pay for waiting a few minutes and hearing someone out. There can frequently be a very high price to pay for rushing into action without listening.

    Great thoughts, Brianne.

  • Brianne

    Thanks for the parenting lesson 😉 I just realized I do this to Joccie ALL the time, but I call it “being firm”. What a jerk! Wow…I think I’d much rather her know I love her in the long run, than know mom always stuck to exactly what she said….