Recovering Conversation

Proverbs 4:24 tells us,

“Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.”

This is good advice.

We should not use our words to say bad, devious, unloving things — or as my mom used to tell us, don’t talk ugly.

It’s a good proverb. But actually, I think we have another problem. It’s not that we talk ugly, it’s that we don’t really talk at all. On a societal level, Americans are having fewer and fewer conversations. In fact, some believe that we have even forgotten how, such as Catherine Blyth in her book, The Art of Conversation: A Guided Tour to a Neglected Pleasure. She explains that for thousands of years, face-to-face conversation has been the core of human interaction, but today, we have pushed it aside.

Just consider a moment how this plays out in your life. How often do you spark conversations with strangers? Or, and this is the harder question, how often do you feel comfortable sparking conversations with strangers?

If you’re like me, and we started keeping track of this, in the the in-between moments of life, when we have some slush time at the coffee shop or picking up carry-out, you would probably rather scroll through your Twitter feed than say hello to someone. What do we do? When we have a few minutes in a public setting. When we are around other people.

We should take seriously the trajectory that we are on here. At this rate, our kids’ generation will replace the idiom “stop and smell the roses” with “stop, look up, and realize that there are real human beings around you.”

And my exhortation to you today, before it gets that bad, is to start doing it now. I want us, starting now, to try to keep our heads up when we go places, and to realize that there are human beings with everywhere around us. And we should, more often than not, venture out into the dangerous terrain of saying “Hello.”

Look I know this is Minnesota. I get the “cultural” thing. I know it’s hard, especially in the winter, to talk to people. But maybe there are other reasons we don’t. Are we really that busy or that conditioned by culture that we can’t talk to people around us? Or is it that we just don’t take seriously that people are made in the image of God?

There are souls everywhere around us, human beings that God made in his image and likeness to say something about himself, and we keep our heads down because, I think, if you are like me, we happen to find that more comfortable.

And the reason we find this more comfortable than acknowledging other people is because we don’t love other people enough.

And loving people is important. Remember two great commandments from the Lord Jesus. First, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And then second: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37–39)

But our sin problem, makes it not that we love our neighbors as ourselves, but that we love ourselves instead of our neighbors — so much so that we can’t even say hi.

And for that we should repent.

I will lead us in a short prayer, followed by silent confession.

Father, you are full of mercy, and we ask that you have mercy on us. We confess to you our pathetic craving for comfort and ease, so much so that we neglect the simplest forms of human interaction. It is your will that we love our neighbors, and that our words be generous, unleashing good to those around us, but instead, we are stingy, and we ignore your glory imprinted on those around whom we live. And so we repent.

Have mercy on us — mercy that is so wonderfully different from our sin. For you have shown us mercy, that although we neglect to speak to our neighbors, you spoke to us words full of life. Neither distant nor cold, you sent to us the Word himself who became human like us and lived among us. Jesus, is your definitive and final word of love and grace, and as you have told us, whoever receives him receives true life. Thank you. We receive him. Because he died for our sin, freely, he conquered the guilt of sin that weighed heavy upon us, and because he was raised from the dead, victorious, he conquered the consequence of sin for which we were all destined. Thank you. And it’s only because of such mercy can we confess our sins to you — all our sins, sins of not loving our neighbors, and sins of self-righteousness, how just moments ago we had this thing happen where we tried to justify ourselves for why we don’t talk more to our neighbors. We rest now on nothing but your mercy, and so, we confess our sins to you in silence.

For a longer article, see Let’s Bring Back Conversation