Face it. You are a mess. Sorry to be the one who brings the news. But, its like one of the members of my congregation says, "We are all comfortable in our own mess." I think that is right. However, when other people began to share their mess with you. Well, that is when things can become more difficult. How do you love people when their mess and your mess don't seem to be on the same planet? What if that person is a family member, a co-worker, or a best friend?
Jesus modeled loving people in their mess. For example, he loved the woman caught in adultery (John 8). He loved Peter, even though Peter had denied Jesus three times and had recently abandoned his work as an apostle to return to his old life of fishing. Peter loved Judas even though he knew that Judas would betray him. Jesus loved people in their mess.
Loving people in their mess gets complicated, however. How do you love someone when you don't agree with many of the decisions they are making? How do you care for your teenager when it seems that lately, every decision they make is rooted in selfishness and sin? How do you love that co-worker that seems only to want to talk about drama and what is wrong in the world?
The fact is that some people are easier to love than others. Some people have a kind of mess that is more suited to your palate. Some messes fit us better than others. But when you come across someone whose mess causes you to scratch your head, the best thing that you can do is listen to them. Listen to their mess. Now, I am not suggesting that you stop doing your job and open a counseling practice right there in your office. Instead, with appropriate boundaries in place, learn to listen — don't fix them, don't try to solve their problem (at least not yet). Just listen. To listen to their mess, you will need to develop six skills. I use the acronym HEAR ME to help remember each of them.
The first thing that you simply must do if you want to love someone in their mess is to honor them. You honor them by observing them and listening. Listen with your eyes as well. Listen to their body language and tone. Yes, listen to their words, but when you are trying to love someone, one of the most important things that you can do is learn to listen to them completely. Look at their body. Do they project fear? Anger? Peace? Are they worried about something? What their body is telling you will help you to know how to respond. Also, if you are aware of what they are projecting, you will be less likely to simply react. So, the first thing you must do to love someone in their mess is to honor them.
(E) Eye Contact
Second, make eye contact. If you are not used to looking at others in the eye, this will be difficult at first. If you are a person who struggles with shame (as I do), eye contact will not come naturally. So, you may have to remind yourself over and over again in your mind to maintain eye contact.
Eye contact helps the other person know that you are with them and that you are interested in what they have to say. Eye contact helps them to feel more vulnerable and human around you. So, whether you are speaking with an angry high schooler or a depressed co-worker, looking them in the eye will help you to make the all-important human connection needed to love them well in their mess.
(A) Avoid distraction
Put down the phone!! Turn off the T.V. Close your laptop and face the other person. If you are in a situation where there are many distractions simply, tell the person that you want to listen to them, but you are very distracted currently. Then request that you move the conversation elsewhere. I have a lot of trouble paying attention to others in restaurants. There are always people walking in, T.V.s are on, waitresses coming by to check on the table. I have a hard time in a place like that. So, if I know I have a meaningful conversation, I try to have it in quieter areas where I know I can listen.
Our phones can be the most significant distraction of all. If someone you love is needing your attention and you have determined that this conversation is essential, then go ahead and go all in. Silence your phone. Put it in your pocket. Embrace the mess that is right in front of you. Instead of the digital mess that will most assuredly be there when this conversation is over.
If you want to HEAR the other person, you must make sure you understand what they are trying to say. So, repeating back to them what you think you heard them say is a polite way to get clarification and to make sure that you are hearing what they are communicating. If they are emotionally charged or distracted themselves, it may be challenging to get to the point of what they are wanting to communicate. When you repeat back to them what they have said, you can make sure they are confident that you understand their mess.
The fifth skill is much like the fourth. The difference is that the fourth skill (Repeat) has to do with their words. The fifth skill has to do with everything else. Look at their eyes, their posture, their tone. I recall once listening to a church member describe a pretty traumatic event in his life. He was going on about it just as you and I might speak about picking up groceries or running errands on a Saturday afternoon. However, I noticed that when he began talking about it, the only thing that changed in his whole appearance was that his eyes became red. He was about to cry. He was not even aware of it. So, I simply stopped and said, "did you know that when you started talking about this, your eyes turned red? It may be nothing, but sometimes that means a person is sad. Does talking about this event make you sad?" He thought for a second and then began to cry (not much but some). I began to see that his internal walls were keeping him from really facing the tragedy in front of him. We all have those kinds of walls, and we all have our own ways of avoiding pain. So, when you are in the middle of someone else's mess, and you want to love them like Christ, mirror their body language and tone for them. With kindness and grace, help them to see their own inner world.
Finally, do your best to empathize with them. This is not putting yourself in their shoes. Instead, think what is it like to be them in their shoes. Empathy is being able to feel what another person is feeling even if you cannot relate to their mess. So, even though you may genuinely believe that their mess is silly and caused by their own making, you can still empathize with the fact that this particular mess is causing significant pain in their life. You can empathize with their pain and in doing so, help the other person to know that you care about them.
Remember the acronym HEAR ME the next time the Lord places you in a situation when you need to love someone in a mess. HONOR their whole self. Make EYE CONTACT. AVOID DISTRACTIONS. REPEAT what you hear them say. MIRROR their body language and tone. Finally, EMPATHIZE with where they are emotionally, even if you can't relate. When you love people in their mess, you are being the hands of Christ to a broken world.
But, if you can't remember the acronym, no problem. When you are with another person, and they are sha
ring their mess, just treat them how you would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12).