Put Yourself on the Shelf
There’s nothing wrong with telling entertaining stories or developing good conversational skills. But if we want to take our friendships deeper, we have to do away with conversational monologues. Friends want a two-way conversation with you; they don’t want to be talked at, but to. Are you any different? You want people to listen and try to understand you, right?
I was cooking dinner while my kids were watching a teenage melodrama. Since I was busy, I wasn’t watching the show, only listening. Have you ever noticed that every conversation in a teenage melodrama is a monologue? Parents, kids, teenagers, and teachers each talk at each other about themselves. Very rarely do they interact with one another in a conversation. Instead, the dialogue is full of introspective speeches followed by scripted sarcastic quips and whining. They don’t take time to pause or listen to one another because they’re too busy formulating comebacks.
We know teenage melodramas aren’t real, but I wonder if we do our conversations much differently. Are we good at pausing, looking at one another in the eye, and listening? Have we lost the skill of caring conversation because we’re so self-consumed?
We don’t have to become expert conversationalists, but we do need Jesus to teach us how to put ourselves on the shelf. We need him to teach us the lost art of loving by laying our lives down for one another. Your sin self doesn’t want you to lay your life down. It will use your vanity to lie to you. Your vanity will convince you that you need to shine brighter so other people will like you more. But no one is attracted to an elevated human ego. Vanity will try to fill your void with self-focus. But genuine value is only found from a focus turned vertical. We cannot love our friends deeply if we’re not willing to love them more than ourselves. We will not find a friend who loves us deeply if we’re not willing to put ourselves on the shelf. We have to sacrifice our need to shine brighter and turn the light on our friend instead.
Let me show you what this looks like in real life. When I realized that my conversations were self-focused, I asked the Lord to help me put myself on the shelf, and he showed me this verse, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38). I asked myself how I could be more giving in my coffee conversations. My solution was simple. Ask them the same questions I’d want to be asked:
How are you doing?
What’s going on in your life?
What’s your biggest dream?
Is there anything I could do to be a better friend?
So I tried it. At first, I struggled to focus, listen, and not interrupt my friend with my own comments or solutions. Their words kept triggering thoughts, ideas, memories, and stories I wanted to share, but I kept my mouth shut and my responses short. I felt like my dog, Niko, when I place a treat right in front of his nose but don’t let him have it. He gets anxious and jittery. His tail wags and eyes dart, and his breath becomes labored. The self-control felt excruciating. But I did it.
I practiced keeping quiet over and over, and as I did, I felt myself melting into each friend’s life story. I empathized with their struggles and felt joy in their accomplishments. I enjoyed being on the shelf and letting them shine because I realized they were trusting me with their treasures. My silent attention welcomed an intimacy I hadn’t known; it was a treat worth the self-control. I learned to give, and a deeper love and affection was given to me in a measure that was “pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”
You have just read an exerpt from Sharie's newest book I Love You More (except when I don't) - Fighting to Keep Jesus First in the chapter I Love You More Than My Position. If you have enjoyed this and would like to continue reading you can purchase this book on Amazon and in the Store on this site.