“Don’t Speak While I’m Interrupting” – Thoughts on Faith Dialogue

courtesy of http://www.savagechickens.com

Years ago at my brother Tom’s first Christmas as a married man, another brother, Stan (stay with me here – I have four brothers) gave him a Christmas gift that was envied by all. It was two couch pillows, made especially by Stan. One said in bold, machine-embroidered letters “Don’t interrupt while I’m speaking” while the other  replied “Don’t speak while I’m interrupting.”

The cushions were a humorous duo, the perfect gift for a newly married couple at their first Christmas together.

While the pillows were funny, living out interruptions on a regular basis is not. When I think about faith and faith dialogue, the “Don’t speak while I’m interrupting” phrase has been my mantra far too often. Even as people open their mouths to speak a sentence or articulate an opinion or belief on faith, I’m busy framing my reply. What an indictment on my willingness to hear another point of view; another’s words that will allow me to enter into a deeper relationship.

I have analyzed this inability to listen and I’ve come up with a fairly simple reason I don’t want people to speak while I’m interrupting. Fear. One little word with many ramifications. I am afraid that my faith cannot withstand argument. It is simultaneously troubling and freeing to admit this in a public forum.

It’s fear that I won’t have the answers to the many questions that can arise on evil, life, sin and eternity.

It’s fear that I will sound foolish in my feeble attempts at explanation.

It’s fear that my faith, this faith that is the foundation of my life, will be found wanting. 

It’s fear that I will not have a defense.

And as foolish as it sounds, its fear that if I listen, if I take the time to understand, somehow that will spell “compromise” that dreaded slippery slope of a word.

In a recent Facebook discussion, I confessed this to someone who, it’s safe to say, has some different views than I. Elena is a critical thinker and while she has strong opinions, she clearly wants dialogue. So much so that she has begun a Facebook page called “Civilities”. On this page she invites others to react and reflect, always bearing in mind the importance of true dialogue.

Here is an excerpt from the discussion:

It wasn’t until about 5 years ago that I realized how bad I was at listening and how much I had been schooled in a vocabulary that those who did not share my faith couldn’t understand. I always thought I had to have a defense….and I think that may be what you’re talking about. Somehow, despite having a family that were great at discussions and critical thinking, I got it in my head that I had to have answers. All the answers. Constant defending is exhausting and crushes friendships. The need to defend changed for me as I began going through an introduction to Christianity where the goal is to listen and where there is a recognition that none of us have the power to convert. If I can convert you then someone else can convert you back. My whole world has changed as I’ve been let into the arguments and pain that Christianity has caused some of my friends. Those friendships are so strong, because I have no agenda. I love my friends and they love me without me having to defend a position. I have met more and more Christians in this area that are well able to engage in dialogue without coming across as dogmatic, doing so with respect and care, and a “free exchange” of ideas as you state, but I know that is not always the case…. “

The conversation went on and brought in several different view points and people. It was one of those rare times when people listened to each other and because of this all involved felt like they had been heard, had expressed what they wanted and had learned in the process.

Listening takes humility.

Listening takes time.

Listening means giving up control.

And it’s worth it. But as a talker I will be “in process” when it comes to listening until the day I die. Sometimes it will go well and there is no doubt that there will be other times when I will be living out the mantra “Don’t Speak While I’m Interrupting!”  But I have tasted of the kind of conversation and friendship that can result from listening, the kind of faith dialogue that makes people want to hear more,  and now that I have tasted of that sort of encounter, I will never be the same.

18 thoughts on ““Don’t Speak While I’m Interrupting” – Thoughts on Faith Dialogue

  1. You must think im stalking you.(sorry) its just that I love your ‘way’ of writing and yours was the most interesting blog i came across right now.. And yes i love the ‘I’m sorry–the middle of my sentence interrupted the beginning of yours’ line too!


    1. hahaha! Stalk away please!! No worries – I’m thrilled that you’re reading. As much as I say in public “I do this for myself so that I become a better writer” I know that I love the interaction with people and what they bring to my life and world – so thank you.


    1. I love this picture of you at your window, tossing answers to the wind! Very compelling. Thanks for the comment and the visual. I will remember that.


  2. Goodness gracious Ms. Marilyn….I have to read this again. There is something in there I have to work on!!!


  3. Wow! This is quite possibly the best information I’ve heard or read on listening – and I’ve had MANY classes on communication and read many books on the subject.

    The comments are also superb and enlightening.

    Two things jump out:

    1) Listening is humility. That is super-profound.

    2) Two comments were fabulous – one was the story about the professor, and the other was the funny, but poignant nonetheless, quote:
    “I’m sorry–the middle of my sentence interrupted the beginning of yours.” I may have to use that some time.

    Great post, my friend.

    Do you have the link to the Civilities fb page?


  4. I have missed you my dear friend, please forgive me–I have been frustrated, under the weather and pressed for time as I get ready to 1.) go enjoy a most AMAZING event and 2.) as I have been walking down memory lane while making a scrap book for Courtney, I don’t scrap mind you–not all memories are kind.

    I couldn’t agree more on this and also taking it one step further, using this phrase “Don’t Speak While I’m Interrupting!” in all aspects of life. My husband is VERY passionate and he has a tendency to go ‘long’ and ‘ repeat’ especially during a disagreement, I love him dearly but it happens, while I on the other hand am very emotional and tend to go high, loud and out of the room–it’s an Irish thing sadly!

    But the one thing I have learned is that men soooo badly want respect and the one way to give that to them is by listening and NOT interrupting and for one like me who struggles with patience it’s hard, so we have to find balance.

    So, like you said–balance, sure we want everyone to get along, be like we are are, have the same ideas and be happy? But really, do we REALLY want that? Would we grow? I have been thinking about this lately as my daughter was telling me how much my ex-husband’s family hates me–and how I have to see them and how kind some of them ( well, he hates me and well he ignores me, not sure why–thin line between love and hate I guess) but what this has made ME do, is understand that blame is pointless, I don’t hate anyone, I can be kind, I can get over my fear and ask them for help–and they were kind.

    Jesus died on that cross for OUR sins, no some of our sins, not just some of our sins, but ALL OUR SINS, why should I get to choose who to be kind too? So, this is something I am working on.

    My step son just got back from New Zealand after being gone for three months and he had a rough night the other night and he told me ‘ you have grown Traci’–I still have serious work to do, but I am trying and now, I NEED to understand that Jesus wants ME too! :)



    1. Traci – I have missed you so much as well! Thank you for being willing to share the road you walk with extended family in this email. And your willingness to grow through it instead of curl up in a little ball and stay there, safe from the hurt and harm. Great that your step son affirmed the growth. If there is one thing I know, we will be in process forever. As long as we don’t give up on the “process” we’ll still take occasional steps forward. love you my friend.


      1. God Bless you Marilyn, it’s a pleasure to know you, I just wanted to tell you that! And thank you–I am ‘ still kickin”!



  5. You’re so right. I learned so much about this from one of my professors. He is a meek, quiet, unassuming man … incredibly knowledgeable in his field. But you would never guess it when he shares his faith with those of other religions! I loved to watch him sit and listen by the hour, genuinely interested. I never saw him anxiously preparing his ‘speech’ while his friends spoke of their religion and beliefs; always he was humble, willing to listen. And there was a marked difference in the friendship HE had, and the friendship others had who weren’t willing to listen, to take the time to care. His life blessed me incredibly, and challenges me to be willing to listen rather than talk; to learn rather than teach; to be a friend rather than to feel like I have to ‘tell them how it is’. Don’t we appreciate people like that?


    1. Love this story of your professor. Huge gift. Rarely are people won over through debate, as fun and stimulating as that can be at times.
      And to your point – yes, those are the people I feel most able to trust. Thanks Jessica!


  6. Recently a friend of mine said to his wife, “I’m sorry–the middle of my sentence interrupted the beginning of yours.” It made me laugh.

    I do what you’re describing, too, Marilyn. Interestingly, it was the very paragraph you quoted from that FB discussion that impressed me no end. It is possible for people to have Ciceronian (just learned this idea–ha!) conversation where no one has to agree on anything except that we are all human beings and there are good reasons why we find different ideas or beliefs compelling. We can still all go home friends.


    1. Elena – thank you for inspiring this post. I am in a really great friendship with someone who thinks so differently than I do – she is my closest friend in this area. It has been a tremendous lesson to me in this whole area.


  7. Listening, and really hearing, is so vital to any real communication – in marriage (I’m still learning after nearly 61 years) – between parents and children, young and older- and with people who don’t share our faith, whoever they may be. Thank you.


    1. I do this whole thing on active listening for our communication unit of the Patient navigator course and as I’m doing it I’m always very convicted of the truth in those particular slides.


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