So, how and why did I come to change my mind about these matters of my faith? I see at least seven steps common to virtually all of my change in belief.
First, someone challenged my thinking. In essence, they dared to say to me, “I respectfully disagree, and here’s why.” It wasn’t a matter of confrontation or debate, simply a clear and respectful challenge (let me underscore the word “respectful”). Someone dared to ask me why I believed what I believed, patiently listened to my response, and then either deliberately tried to set up a checkpoint of thought in my path or tried to plant in my mind the seed of a differing view.
In a few words, they disagreed with me without being disagreeable about it. As a result, I learned, and continue to learn, to welcome, rather than resent, questions about my faith.
Second, I dared to truly consider what the person had said or written. Actually “consider” isn’t a strong enough word; “ponder” is more accurate. But we’re talking baby steps here; consider, then ponder! This is often no easy thing to do, particularly given the speed at which we live our lives today and how so very much competes for our attention every minute of every day. Distractions are about us like the air; they’re everywhere. But unless a thought, especially a challenging thought, has time to settle deep into our mind, we will never open ourselves up to the chance of changing our mind.
If I changed my mind about something, it was because I didn’t let things go in one ear and straight out the other. This could very well be the most personally challenging of all the steps I’ll list here, for a full and busy life is not a friend to reflection.
Third, I talked with God about these things with faith. I prayed for God to shed his light on the matter. I asked him to show me if I was wrong, where I was mistaken, and what path to take. I trusted him to lead me to a better understanding and practice of his will. I believed he would cross my path with the people, places, things, and experiences that would answer my requests of him.
I believe he did. And I believe he does.
Fourth, I sought more information from the person who planted the seed. This rarely happened at the time of the question or challenge, but came about instead after pondering the matter a bit. It was as simple as saying to the person who had differed with me, “I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day. Tell me more. I’m here to listen and learn, not debate or argue. I want to know more about what you believe and why for your view intrigues me.” Significantly, it was in this listening that I often discovered that some, or even all, of my conceptions as to what exactly others believed, or why they believed what they did, were often skewed mistaken.
How very embarrassing, but, oh, how enlightening is this step! In this I continue to learn that embarrassment is more often than not, a necessary part of learning. If I will not risk shame, I will not grow. It’s as simple as that.
Fifth, I investigated matters for myself. That is, I started reading and digging into the subject at hand and as I did so, I deliberately read outside of my comfort zone. I read things that challenged my views and differed from my understandings. I read the other person’s mail, so to speak. I tried to walk a mile in their moccasins. And as I did so, I deliberately tried to keep an open mind and to not engage the material in a combative spirit. And then, having read the other person’s mail, I’d go back and examine my beliefs in light of what I had encountered.
I have grown to relish this step, for it is here that I hear the cogs of my mind turning most clearly.
Sixth, I began to look more closely at the fruit of my beliefs and the fruit of the beliefs of others. Ideas have consequences and as I traced the trail of various beliefs to their logical ends and began to pay attention to how they were commonly and outwardly expressed, I discovered much more about the real “stuff” of these beliefs. I found that sometimes a belief that sounded reasonable in my head and didn’t meet strong resistance when expressed in words, actually made little sense at all, or was contradictory to the facts at hand, when put into practice. Typically, what I learned from these observations came as a complete surprise to me. I had expected one thing, but witnessed another. I believed that practice is the acid test of faith, but I came to realize that if I didn’t hang around long enough to see what happens to the belief when it was put into the acid, I’d never really know what my beliefs, or the beliefs of others, were made of.
I can’t begin to say how immensely powerful this single step was to opening my eyes up to my change in belief on some matters (for example, #6 on my list). Some of the most humbling experiences in my life have come from taking this step quite seriously. I believe it is one of the most commonly overlooked and least often practiced of the disciplines mentioned here. May this change.
Finally, I made it a point to not stop looking at, thinking about, listening to, and seriously considering, the minority view on matters. This didn’t come naturally for me, nor did it come easily or quickly. It was something I had to work hard at developing. What influenced me strongly then was the fact that there were people around me, or people to whom I frequently exposed my mind, who believed the same way I believed. They were “the majority,” in my mind, because they were my circle of influence. What slowly dawned on me across the years is that “the minority” view on a matter needed to be given extra attention in my mind if their perspective was to ever get a fair hearing. How so? Because the influence of “the majority” was so strong in my mind that it tended to filter out any real chance of detailed consideration of differing views. And so, I made up my mind to no longer be capable of being a mere bobble-head doll, nodding in near automatic agreement with those in my circle of greatest influence. I deliberately chose to allow other perspectives to go against the flow and challenge my thinking.
This is a huge, significant step for it strongly calls out what I actually believe about God. None of us hold our beliefs alone, but majorities and minorities don’t factor into the mind of God. As a Christian, I live under his sovereignty, not my democracy.
Without a doubt, I remain a very long, long way from where God would have me to be in terms of my walk with him, and my being shaped into his Son’s likeness. But this shaping must occur, inside and out, and must not ever stop. If by sharing these things with you, you find you’ve been helped in some small way, then I know that I have been helped as well.
God have mercy and give more of his light to us all as we can see it. And may he smile on all of us as we seek to become and reflect his ways. Amen.