“It was during this period of immense inner pain that another friend spoke the word that I most needed to hear and opened up the third phase of my spiritual journey.”Henri Nouwen – from the Introduction to “The Return of the Prodigal Son“
My friend Nick Jackson spoke powerful, life changing words to me.
We had been friends for years, and he was recounting our first conversation. Nick told me about how he was struck by my intense focused attention. He described it as being “fiercely present.”
Those words named for me a power I never realized I had. I began to perceive that some people blossom when they receive enthusiastic, curious, agenda-less attention. While it costs a lot of energy to provide that level of attention to people, it can be an immense blessing. I never had words to describe it before, nor was I intentional about the situations in which I offered it. But Nick’s words opened my eyes to a whole new skill to develop and hone.
Henri Nouwen describes how each new phase of his spiritual life was initiated by a friend issuing a word of challenge:
“…I explained to Bart how strongly I had been able to identify with the younger son, he looked at me quite intently and said, ‘I wonder if you are not more like the elder son.’ With these words he opened a new space within me.”
An essential part of Christian maturity is the recognition that we’re part of a community. However, beyond that recognition comes the readiness to live like we’re in community. That means being open to one another. We give one another permission to speak truth into each other’s lives. We open ourselves to words of encouragement, challenge, exhortation, and comfort. This reflects the oft repeated truth of scripture: “…encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” (I Thessalonians 5:11)
An important caveat: openness does not equal acceptance of every word spoken. We don’t merge into one another and lose ourselves in how other people define us; in our openness to others, we maintain our individuality. Growth in maturity is learning how to maintain integrity as an individual while being open to the perspectives, insights, and contributions of others.
Growth in maturity is learning how to maintain integrity as an individual while being open to the perspectives, insights, and contributions of others.Tweet
Stephen Covey talks about this kind of maturity as interdependence: “Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.” (from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)
“Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success.” Stephen CoveyTweet
In light of these ideas, set aside some time and ponder these questions:
- Who has spoken transformational words over your life?
- How has that experience of receiving such words shaped the way you speak encouragement to others?
- What are some ideas on ho to create an environment in which we habitually build one another up?
- What are some ideas on how church leaders can practice interdependence in such a way that we help church members grow into maturity?
As always, please share your thoughts insights with me. I’d love to hear what God teaches you through this exercise.
Soli Deo Gloria
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