Devotional: Getting to the Heart of the Matter

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Devotionals on Communication

Getting to the Heart of the Matter*

Tim Muehlhoff, Ph.D., Biola University

There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. (Proverbs 16:25)

Headline: “British doctors perform heart transplant against wishes of girl.” The Associated Press article tells of a fifteen-year-old girl in England who refused a life-saving heart-transplant operation. Family, friends, and onlookers were shocked. “I don’t want to die, but I would rather die than have the transplant and have someone else’s heart,” she explained. The article ends with the court’s decision to force the operation.

What’s missing from this story is the crucial question of “Why?” The girls’ response above is unsettling, unsatisfying. Why’s this girl, with her whole life ahead of her, choosing certain death?

When someone we care about holds views we don’t share, we often respond defensively rather than pursuing further conversation. So, your spouse thinks sending your daughter to a private Christian school is “over protective.” In-laws suggest your parenting style produces undisciplined children. A non-Christian co-worker says Christians are judgmental and no one has the right to judge others. In each case, the message is clear: you are wrong! You are getting the transplant! Case closed. Tensions escalate.

When discussing differences in the heat of the moment, the key mistake is this: we give our bottom-line convictions, not the back-story of how those convictions developed. We only trade final destinations, not the journey taken to arrive at our position. We forget that for each person, there is a way that seems right to him or her.

Perhaps the most important part of a conversation is when we resist the urge to prove how wrong someone’s position is, but first seek to engage in perspective-taking—to see the world from a different point of view; to uncover why this particular way seems right to her.

Questions for reflection: In disagreements, how often do I merely trade conclusions?  Do I seek to understand the backstory of a person’s beliefs, or merely rush to present my own views?

Today’s challenge: Find someone who holds a different view from your own. Avoid sharing your bottom line conviction. Ask questions about how he arrived at his belief. Learn about the experiences that shaped his thinking.

* This devotional is included in a book of 365 devotionals on Christianity and Communication Studies, forthcoming, from Integratio Press. All Rights Reserved.

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