Are you listening?

After the school shooting in Florida last Wednesday, a number of debates have reemerged about guns, mental health, parental responsibility, government, prayer, teachers, sin, evil—and all the other topics related to this horrific event. 

I have watched my friends debate some of these issues on Facebook and had multiple conversations with the people too. Everyone agrees that seeing teenagers murdered in their school is tragic, but not everyone agrees on how to help address these issues. 

You know what else I’ve seen? That while everyone is talking, not many seem to be listening. We have our own opinions—based on our experiences—and we want everyone else to think the same way as we do. So we do a lot of talking.

This is a good time to take a deep breath and remember the wise advice from Proverbs 18:13: “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” When someone differs from you on the topic of guns or parental responsibility or mental health, do you answer quickly, trying to sway their views? Or do you listen—really listen—first? Do you pause, think about what they are saying, see it from their point of view, and then reply with respect? 

Answering with respect means you pay attention to the words you choose and speak in love. Get rid of hurtful sarcasm and use genuine kindness. Don’t judge people’s intentions, but take their words in the kindest possible way. Put aside your ego and admit you might have some areas where you don’t know it all. Let your speech change the tone of the conversation.

After you’re done listening, be sure to act in your community. Honestly, I can’t personally do much for the victims in Florida. (That sounds callous, but it’s the truth.) Yet I can make sure to be a light in my community. I can let the teens in my sphere of influence know they have a safe place to talk or I can work to help people with mental health issues. Maybe you choose to be active in government. Still others decide to mentor young parents. And many do pray, because God tells us that righteous people’s prayers are powerful. (And you are righteous because of Jesus, so your personal prayers are powerful!)

Whatever way you choose to engage in discussion and action at this point in history, remember that this will affect your ability to witness to your faith at this point in history. By listening with gentleness and respect, then replying with gentleness and respect, you can share the hope you have even when—especially when—tragedy happens.

Linda Buxa is a writer and editor with three teenagers, so teen-related news items are close to her heart. Her book, Parenting by Prayer, helps parents pray for themselves while they raise their children of all ages.