“If words come out of the heart, they will enter the heart, but if they come from the tongue, they will not pass beyond the ears.” Al-Suhra Wardi , Persia, 12th Century
This morning I listened to the Diane Rehm show on my local NPR station; she interviewed Deborah Hicks who has written a book about her work teaching poor Appalachian girls. Toward the end of the show, Diane asked Dr. Hicks what were the lessons of her work. (http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2013-03-12/deborah-hicks-road-out-teachers-odyssey-poor-america) The first lesson, the author replied, was that relationships come first. She needed to listen to her students and to learn who they were and what was important to them before she could really teach them.
Her simple reply led me into thought. We so often forget that it is always relationships first. We become who we are only through relationships. With healthy authentic relationships, we can grow and flourish. With healthy relationships, we can both laugh and cry; we can both work and play. With honest listening relationships, we can both agree and disagree.
Without authentic relationships, we develop an edge. We may shrivel up, and we are more likely to be afraid or angry. Too often, we let fear or judgment interfere with our relationships and prevent us from living and loving fully. We can let unhealthy relationships damage us; suspicious and angry relationships cause us to doubt ourselves and lose our vitality.
My young adult daughter is recently divorced and in a new relationship. Her new relationship seems to be firmly grounded in honesty, trust and fun. She reported to us that her co-worker and friend of four years told her that she was the happiest that he had ever seen her. I reflected that indeed she is happier than she has been in these last few years. For several years, even when she was happy, she had a tense edge. Now, that edge is gone; she is relaxed and happy. In her marriage, she had been hurt and she was fearful. Her husband blamed her for all problems and liked to tell her what was wrong with her. Her new partner listens to her, shares what he is thinking and feeling, and likes her. They are having fun together.
As it is with teachers and students and in close personal relationships, so it is with congregations. Clergy and congregations can grow and flourish together when we remember that it is always relationships first. It can be hard to enter openly into new trusting relationships. It requires that one likes and trusts oneself enough to truly listen to the other and learn who they are. When clergy enter a new community determined that it y should be the kind of congregation that they want it to be, they are not fully open to authentic relationship. When congregants have decided who the new clergy person is before establishing a relationship, they are also not open to authentic relationship. Communities and clergy may survive but they will not flourish without authentic relationship, without trust.
It is not always easy to enter into new relationships with authenticity and trust. Sometimes when I speak the words from my heart, they come with tears. It is not always easy, but it is always relationships first.
May your words come from your heart and be received by open hearts.