“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:31
Loving those we find it difficult to love doesn’t always involve people who hate us or do mean things to us. Sometimes the people who are nicest to us are the hardest to tolerate. When Marty and I first moved to our “little house in the big woods” early in our marriage, I had a neighbor who craved company. She would “drop by,” sometimes several times a day, and talk to me at a volume I found myself matching as I tried to communicate with this person I was assuming must be hard of hearing.
Hard of hearing or not, I knew Vicki was lonely, and the Lord had been showing me that I wasn’t truly showing her His love. While I tolerated her constant visits, I had never initiated any contact. Instead, I got involved with my new community to a point where I was rarely home. It was easier for me to be involved with the youth or the ladies in the Christian Women’s Club than with this retired hairdresser that I had very little in common with.
While something in me really didn’t want to, I decided one morning that I’d beat Vicki to it. I would come to her house, show her the love of Jesus. No matter how loudly she yelled, I would sit and take it, I would smile and nod, and try to be the friend she so desperately needed.
As I left my house, not feeling at all ready for this visit, I prayed for God to steady my heart.
Lord, You know I don’t enjoy these visits with Vicki. I get stressed, and …
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” He admonished through the familiar verse.
I got annoyed.
I know, Lord, I’m TRYING to be nice to her! What else do You want me to ... ?
“STOP.” He cut me off, then added, like a patient parent, “You’re not listening to Me. ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”
I stopped in the middle of the road and pondered what He had said. It was a simple concept. What was I missing???
“What do you want Vicki to ‘do unto you’?” He coaxed. I sighed.
I just want her to speak to me in a normal voice – not shout!
Seriously? I thought. Could it be that simple?
I knocked on Vicki’s door, and when she opened it, her face lit up.
“ANN! HI! IT’S GOOD TO SEE YOU!” she bellowed.
“Good morning, Vicki,” I said in a voice that was almost a whisper. “How are you?”
“Come on in!” she said – at a perfectly normal volume!
I was stunned. I didn’t know which surprised me more, that she could actually hear me in the soft voice I was using, or that it took only a moment for her to bring her volume down to the same level as mine.
We went on to have a very pleasant visit over tea.
As I walked back to my house, the profoundness and simplicity of the lesson sunk in. Sometimes I can overcomplicate things. But people really do tend to relate to you in the way you relate to them, maybe not always as quickly as Vicki did, but do we give up too easily? Do we assume that someone can’t be changed? We certainly can’t change them, but God can.
I’ve also noticed that for all my seeking the wisdom that can seem so elusive, the LORD will drop a nugget of understanding into my mind and heart unexpectedly – right after I have just obeyed Him! Before I had even finished walking back to my house, it occurred to me after all those months why my neighbor had the habit of shouting.
Vicki had worked in a salon for years, communicating with women whose heads were under noisy hairdryers. And if the majority of her customers were elderly, even without the dryers there was the daily challenge of speaking to the hard of hearing.
But once I had communicated in six words that I was not one of those hard-of-hearing, under-the-dryer people, she had lowered her voice immediately.
(As my daughter used to say, “DUH.”)
I chuckled at the memory of my long bouts with laryngitis, having no choice but to whisper. People would whisper back, until halfway through the conversation they would ask, “… Uh … why are we whispering?” I would laugh and respond, “I don’t know why you‘re whispering, but I have laryngitis.”
For the most part. people respond to others the way they are spoken to. If that is true with volume, it’s not a stretch to believe the same principle applies to the tone of voice. And if that’s true, isn’t it logical to think that if we just speak to others kindly, they will usually respond positively?
If we are being snapped at or yelled at for no particular reason, we tend to respond defensively. But if we will take it upon ourselves to do a “reset,” speak softly, calmly, – and yes, kindly – that response could change the direction of the whole conversation – even the relationship. As the book of Proverbs says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” Like many Proverbs, this isn’t complicated, it’s just a simple fact of life, one that we don’t need to overthink!
I may not be able to control others, but when talking with another individual, I have control over my half of the conversation, and if I remember to use what control I have in a positive way, God might use me to let His love overflow onto the other person.
(I might at least avoid a migraine.)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we don’t know the hearts of other people the way You do. Help us always to speak others the way we would want to be spoken to, and if they are resistant to our message, rather than shout, we will leave it up to You to convince them of Your truth, in Jesus’ name. Amen.