“. . . everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry.” James 1;19b (CEB)
As a former Lutheran, I studied Luther’s catechism, and I learned the creeds, read the Bible, and learned about religion, particularly the Lutheran denomination. I remember hearing (more than once) that Martin Luther called the Epistle of James a letter of straw. While I never really understood what that meant, I made the assumption that it wasn’t a really positive critique of this book in the New Testament.
Our high school Sunday school class was made up of about six of us teenagers, and I got into an argument with one of the boys about the way to salvation. The letter of James focuses on what we DO so much, I guess I really believed at the time that we entered heaven through our good works – heresy! My dad, who was our teacher, got quite a kick out of our debate, and he wisely never entered it with the “correct” answer but let us discuss it.
As someone who has a lot more experience, two divinity degrees, and a good amount of Bible study and reflection under her belt, I realize now that I was ignoring “by faith alone.” However, I still believe that our behavior is a product of our faith, and the way we live and interact with each other in Christ-like ways is part of following Jesus.
So, in James 1:17-27, we find more of the “James-isms” to help us in our relationships. Be quick to listen – what a different world we would have if everyone really listened! I can’t even count the number of parishioners who tell me that they didn’t know anything about an upcoming event, even though it was in the newsletter, bulletin, and announced during church. How many relationships would be healthier if we took time to focus on the other person and REALLY listen to what they were saying, to their concerns, to hear their needs? Listening is a gift we give each other, and so many of us do it so badly.
When I was in seminary for my Master of Divinity degree, my advisor would interact with me and her other students, as well a the faculty, in a way that taught me about listening. She focused on that person as if he or she was the only other one in the room. She listened with her mind and heart, and I always knew she had heard me. What a gift she gave me! I strive to do the same, and I still have a way to go, but it is a goal I have set for my own listening skills.
Be slow to speak. I think I can really learn from this one, too. As someone who wants to fix other people’s problems and pain, I find myself (every so often) jumping in to try to offer advice or becoming involved in a triangle. Being more aware of how I triangulate has made me not only slower to speak, but also a better listener. If the situation doesn’t need my presence, advice, or problem solving skills, I need to let the other folks figure it out unless they want me to be a mediator.
Be slow to grow angry. It really takes a lot to make me angry. Well, it used to, anyway. As I grow older, I think I’m becoming more impatient and reactive. Fortunately, I’m still able to stop to think before I speak – at least most of the time. It’s been a long process of learning to keep my mouth shut, work through whatever it is that bothers me, and then act appropriately or not. It’s not easy, especially when you want to do what my husband called “the shirt front” reaction.
I think the words even in just the half verse above from James 1:19 offer some very good advice. Maybe James really can teach us about relationships – Jesus did – so I suspect that James is reflecting the teachings of Jesus.
How well do you listen to someone or even to a situation?
In what ways do you stay quiet to process something?
How can you hold your anger so it may be expressed appropriately or maybe not expressed at all?