Yesterday Emma spoke at a conference along with 3 other amazing Christians. They all told stories of God meeting them in hard places.
One of them has the most stunning testimony I've ever heard. I can't relate the details for his own security, but it involved Christ calling him out of the Mosque of which he was Sheikh. As hundreds listened, open-mouthed, I was part-thrilled, part-devastated.
You see I had spent the 10 minutes prior to the seminar chatting with this guy. About the Olympics. The Olympics! In particular, an event I knew nothing of. For ten precious minutes.
Later, as he gave his testimony, I had a thousand questions I wanted to ask him. But I knew he'd be swamped after the seminar. I'd had my chance. And we'd spoken about sport.
How'd it happen?
Well it went something like this:
Me: Where are you from?
Him: I'm from the country of X.
Me: [Smirking because I knew one tiny, stupid little fact about that country] Oh... didn't they just win Gold in such-and-such an event?
Indeed they did. Well done Glen! Ten points and control of round two. With that little nugget of trivia we were off. For ten long minutes, we were off not speaking about the most amazing story and the most amazing God.
As the conversation unfolded, things were not helped by my attempt to demonstrate knowledge of this sport. I'd read something you see. A while back. And it was important that I share this tit-bit. Knowingly. For the sake of the conversation you understand. It turned out that my tit-bit was false. But he was gracious and put me straight. It wasn't like that in country X you see.
But wait. I wasn't finished blagging. Because, to me, it sounded a little like the situation in country Y. A country I was more familiar with. Here was me demonstrating a connection you see. For the sake of the conversation. It turned out country Y was not really that similar. But I'm sure, deep down, he was appreciative of my efforts to relate. Not to mention my ability to be semi-ignorant across a broad range of global concerns.
Ten minutes! Ten minutes of me saying things like "Oh, yes, I'd heard that such-and-such is a real problem... No? Ok, well I suppose that's because of the so-and-so factor. Really? Not that either eh? Hm."
Ten minutes of me covering. That's the biblical term for what we do when we feel naked. Ever since man sinned we've wanted a covering - something to hide our shame, our weakness, our ignorance. As we relate to each other we conceal our bad bits, show off our clothing and remain, decidedly, at a distance.
Conversationally, we spend our lives building up a bank of "things to say" in certain situations. X is mentioned. We go to the filing cabinet and deliver our lines on cue. Why? We're covering.
What would it have been like if, instead of covering, I'd been curious? Just curious about him?
Well I'd have dropped those fig-leaves of trivial "knowledge" that only side-tracked the conversation. I'd have confessed ignorance of his country and his context and could have allowed him to tell me his story on his terms.
And, ironically, if I'd stopped pretending to trivial knowledge, we'd have gotten down to subjects far closer to my heart. A real heart-to-heart can happen when we're into curiosity not covering.
In the Q&A section of the seminar, the last two questions were asked of Emma and of Ruthie (who was bereaved aged 27 and whose wonderful blog you can read here.) The question for both was "How can we help people who have gone through situations like yours?"
Both Emma and Ruthie essentially answered the same: Don't be frightened by your own ignorance. Don't shy away because you don't know "the right thing to say." Ask the sufferer what's the right thing! Ask the sufferer how you can help! Because they don't need you to have the answer. They need you.
In other words. Stop covering. Be curious.