A few lines from one of the letters of Flannery O’Connor:
Love and understanding are one and the same only in God. Who do you think you understand? If anybody, you delude yourself. I love a lot of people, understand none of them.
I don’t understand most of the people around me. Sometimes they simply annoy me. Sometimes, I am intrigued. I’m working on trying to be more curious and intrigued than annoyed.
This week I was chairing a gathering of about 20 clergy. Part of my job was to report on news of the judicatory. I reported about a series of workshops the judicatory is offering for congregational leaders. About 15 minutes later, when I asked if there were any announcements from the congregations, a big, loud, gregarious pastor announced that the judicatory is offering a series of workshops for congregational leaders, as if this were news to the group. Except it was the same announcement I made 15 minutes earlier. I know he was in the room. I wonder what was so pre-occupying him at the moment when I made the announcement.
In the same gathering were a senior pastor and associate pastor, a ministry team from the same congregation. The associate has accepted a senior position at a congregation about 60 miles away. Their relationship has been strained for some time. In this gathering they were cordial and said all the right things. I wonder what was going on underneath. I wonder what each of them wished they could say. I wonder how they are each feeling about the days and weeks to come.
A colleague showed up at the meeting for the first time since she hosted the monthly meeting at her church nearly a year ago. Part of it was my fault. I send out announcements for the meetings by e-mail; I had her e-mail address wrong and it took me a few fits and starts to finally make the proper correction. So when I saw her, I welcomed her to the meeting and apologized that it took me so many tries to correct what should have been a simple mistake. (I’m admittedly not very good at technology stuff.) Another colleague standing close by overheard my comments and said, “That’s ok. She doesn’t like these meetings much anyway.” While I think it was meant in jest, it felt like it hit a little too close to home to be funny. Did he intend it to be a barb, or was it just an attempt at humor that went way wide of the mark?
When you think of all the psychological baggage that each of us carries, the difficulty of communicating with any precision, our ubiquitous fears and anxieties, and all that we’ve experience in the one hour or 6 hours prior to an encounter with another human being, no wonder it’s hard to understand each other.
And yet we are remarkable. We are resilient. We are unique and complex. We so often rise above our anxieties and fears to accomplish astounding things. Though we are cracked and broken, still we are created in God’s image and that mystery comes through almost in spite of ourselves.
I’m working on trying to be more curious and intrigued than annoyed.