The Silent Gift of Love

By Keith Miller | May 4, 2009

Keith, what is the best way you’ve found to begin to convey the message that they are loved by God to people who are very cognitive and scientifically oriented and don’t even believe there is a God?

Recently I ran across the following conversation between a camp counselor and a camper who finally decided to become a Christian:

Counselor: When did you decide you wanted to be a Christian?
Camper: When you learned my name.

When I first became a Christian, I wanted to tell everyone all about Christianity. But it didn’t take long to discover that most of my contemporaries outside of church (and inside) had a strong and efficient resistance to people trying to change them or talk them into something new. And in my mind I only wanted to tell them they were loved.

What I gradually came to believe was that just saying words—even very true and holy words—is not what is meant by loving people as a Christian. At the office, I had learned some things about a kind of preparatory loving I had seen Jesus doing in the New Testament—a kind of a “tuning in” to the person who is with you, a sensitivity that makes anything you may say later about God much more authentic and understandable.

In fact, I began to learn that talking is seldom the most powerful way to get people’s real attention. Much to my surprise, I found that listening is a much more effective way of giving my presence to somebody when I am with them. It’s as if my listening attention were a spotlight that God has given me to focus. I can focus my attention in the past, I can focus it out in the future, or I can focus it into the lives of the people around me.

By personal experience I know that, when somebody really gives me his or her attention, that person draws me gently out of my cold tight absorption with myself and into the healing arena of the “in between”—that space that exists only between people. It is like magic. In such an exchange with another person I often find myself moving into the area of the personal, and the situation changes. When I am listening to somebody this way, even in a crowd of people, I’ve noticed that I am often watching them and listening as if no one else were there. I imagine a glass bubble is around the two of us, and that only we are sharing this special moment of attention.

I have become convinced that what we call the agape love of Christ rides down the beam of our honest attention into people’s lives. And this seems to be true whether I am involved with my wife, a child, or a stranger being encountered for the first time. In a way, I think this focusing on the other person is a taste of the greatest kind of love there is, for in a strange way we are giving people our lives,a second at a time, when we give them our undivided attention.

As a counselor, I have talked to many people who have said in different ways about an estranged mate, “I don’t expect him (her) to do a lot for me. I just want him (her) to know that I exist. I want his (her)attention!

Years ago, when I was director of Laity Lodge, we had scheduled Elton Trueblood to speak at a weekend conference. That weekend, a young woman came from hundreds of miles away just to be at a conference where he was speaking. None of us knew this young woman. But she had heard about the conference from a friend and had come this long distance by herself.

One of the things we did that weekend was to divide into small groups, and one of the small-group activities was to go around the circle and answer the question, “What is the most important single encounter you’ve had with another human being (not counting members of your family)?”In one group, after a few people had responded, it became the young stranger’s turn.

She looked up and said, “Well, when I was a child, maybe ten years old, Elton Trueblood came to our city to speak. My daddy was an elder in the church and in charge of the program, and so the speaker stayed in our home for several days. At the dinner table during that week, Dr. Trueblood would ask the adults questions and then listen attentively to their answers. But then he would turn to me and ask me a question, and he would listen to my answer with the same care he had given to the adults. Then he would ask me another question about something I had said! He did this all week long. He treated me as if I were an intelligent, sensitive, mature Christian. And that week I made up my mind that I was going to spend the rest of my life becoming one.”

Once when I was a new Christian, I got very discouraged about the church I was attending. I read a book by Sam Shoemaker. I wrote him a personal note telling how I felt about the church and thanking him for writing the book—not really expecting an answer—since he was a famous author. But in a few days I got a reply from him, obviously hand-typed on a typewriter with some keys not striking regularly. It was a single paragraph that said something like, “Don’t leave. We need people who see like you see.”He sent “prayers.”

I was astounded.I had never written anything nor had I met anyone who knew this man. And he had not only heard what I was feeling, but he had taken the time to write a personal note to me. I looked at that note every day for a month, and I stayed afloat emotionally and spiritually because he had paid attention to me and taken me seriously. Consequently, when I became a writer, I answered virtually every letter I received for the next thirty years.

“Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”Matthew 5:16 The Message

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I love you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”John 13:35 The Message

Dear Lord, thank you for the miraculous power of personal, loving attention that you offer to each of us.And thank you that by simply listening and responding to people, we can sometimes help to nourish the transformational life of loving you offer us in Jesus.Help us to pass it on to someone I meet today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Topics: Christian Living, Weekly Devotional | Comments Off on The Silent Gift of Love
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