Listening Past the Dial Tones

In response to: Who Tells Your Story?

This summer I am interning on a Senate campaign in Wisconsin. I expected, of course, to be doing tons of exciting jobs like stuffing envelopes and making copies. However, those couldn’t even compare with the adventure that is my actual job: making phone calls for eight hours a day in order to advertise events and ask for financial support. Trust me when I say there’s nothing like asking complete strangers for money over the phone to bring out the worst in all parties involved. I’ve had people yell, sigh, rant, hang up, refuse to speak, and manage to insult me and the entire American political system. If it’s rude, dismissive, or grumpy, I’ve probably heard it in the last three weeks.

Naturally, all of this unpleasant behavior immediately makes me want to act unpleasantly in return. I feel a burning sense of righteous indignation whenever I think about the seemingly thoughtless people on the phone, and I assume they deserve to be put in their place. I went into this job with the mindset that I’d be a stronger person for all of the harsh words at the end of the summer, but I usually just leave the office feeling crushed and exhausted. I wonder how it is that those people fail to remember there is a human on the other end of the line, and how they could treat me like I have so little value. Don’t they know I am a person with a story?

However, I begin to see that what is true of me is also true of the hundreds of people dismissing me on the phone everyday. They are wives, fathers, employees, and friends. They experience loss, failure, heartbreak, and rejection, some maybe even right before I speak to them. All they are able to hear is a political solicitation on one end of the line, and all I am able to focus on are rude and thoughtless words. Somehow this whole process of making political phone calls, something that is supposed to be for the benefit of thousands of people, has become completely dehumanizing all because we fail to acknowledge the existence of each other’s stories.

I’m beginning to realize that people are often shaped by bits and pieces of experiences, good and bad, that only God can fully understand. Only He can see the the sudden burst of self-confidence at a small task completed, the lasting weight unkind words can lay on the heart, and the frustration that comes from missed opportunity. He sees the way the people we’ve met and the experiences we’ve had have changed us in the chapters of our lives we’ve already lived just as clearly as he sees the characters in the chapters to come. Not only does God know our stories down to the very finest detail, He is the one writing them.

Jesus speaks in the book of Matthew about turning the other cheek,1 which creates a moral dilemma for Christians. We need to figure out how to be gracious and humble in situations where we are wronged without allowing ourselves to be repeatedly stomped on. I look to Jesus’s example in the book of Luke where he heals ten men with leprosy, but only one returns to give him thanks. Jesus questions the absence of the other nine men, realizing that they are not praising him in the way that he deserves. Of course, he knew this would be the result, yet he graciously chose to heal all ten men anyway.2 Recent experiences have taught me that there is a way in which I, and anyone for that matter, deserve to be spoken to and treated. I don’t want to become so calloused to harsh words that I fail to hold myself and others to that standard. However, I do want to be sensitive to the fact that these voters may be experiencing personal struggles that I know nothing about, and I want to be gracious in offering them kindness even when I know they are not going to give me the same.

I may not be able to hear every person’s individual story, but I can acknowledge that they have one, and that it is being authored by our most loving God. I may not ever be treated in a way I think is right when making these phone calls, but I can continue to be humbled by the experience and the experiences of others. And I may not be able to share the word of God with every, or any, voter I call, but I can show them Christ’s love by treating them with dignity and respect, even when it doesn’t seem like they deserve it.

 

1. Matthew 5:39

2. Luke 17:11-19

Summer is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying political science. She enjoys dancing, reading, riding horses, and listening to music created primarily for old men.

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