What would you normally think of as an everyday conversation? Maybe you’d talk to a colleague at work about sports, a TV show you love, or your plans for the coming weekend.
Well, your everyday conversations may have changed in some way this past year.
Here are some topics I now regularly talk about with friends, family and people I work with.
- Has anyone we know been directly affected by the coronavirus?
- How are our kids coping with the restrictions of social distancing?
- Do we have the same sense of job security we had a year ago?
- How are we coping with life on a day-to-day level?
I do still talk to people about what I’m watching on Netflix sometimes. But with so much less face-to-face time with anyone, and our circumstances changing in such significant ways, the way we relate and what we talk about is changing too.
People are recognizing that saying “I’m fine” to anyone who asks how you’re doing just sounds hollow and inauthentic in the midst of this pandemic.
No one in my immediate family has contracted COVID-19. But in one way or another my wife and I, and all three of our children, have shown signs of mental and emotional wear and tear. Lockdown has made our world smaller and taken away so many aspects of normal life that we took for granted. The longer it lasts, the harder it becomes.
So we’ve made a decision to stop pretending everything is basically okay. We’re trying to be honest and transparent with people who care enough to ask how we are.
So in this issue of “Conversations” we’re thinking about how conversations about emotional and mental health provide opportunities to discuss spiritual things.
Mental and emotional health have become our “common ground”
So many great conversations about the gospel start by talking about something else. They begin as conversations about something both people have experienced.
As Christians we run the risk of thinking of gospel conversations as “us explaining and someone else trying to understand.” Thinking that way will lead us to miss God-given opportunities to connect with people in meaningful ways.
Many of the best conversations I’ve had with people about the gospel began with both of us asking each other about some aspect of our everyday life.
Normally, we begin connecting with someone by talking about something that feels like common ground. Then, as we talk openly about how our faith impacts every aspect of our life, the conversation transitions to spiritual things.
So many people are either thinking about or personally experiencing COVID-19’s effects on mental and emotional health that it’s become the common ground on which we can connect.
A global pandemic, with no country or community left untouched, is something we’re all going through. If it touches almost every aspect of the way we live in some way, that has to have spiritual implications.
Sometimes we create an unhelpful divide between what we think of as spiritual or non-spiritual conversations.
Not all conversations about these topics will feel spiritual. You may not talk about Jesus or the gospel specifically. But if you and another person are talking about how hopeful you feel, you’re taking a real step toward talking about where each of you finds hope.
Conversations about how you’re really doing can open doors for you to describe the difference that walking through life with Jesus makes.
Starting conversations about mental and emotional health
As I talk with friends who do not believe the same things I do, they sometimes ask me how my faith influences the way I respond to the unique challenges we’re all facing right now.
I’m not looking for opportunities to preach to people or convince them that being a Christian makes everything better. Some days I do not feel like that’s true. But asking people simple questions that show I genuinely care creates opportunities to connect our daily life with eternal themes.
Here are some things you could say as you start a conversation with someone you know:
- The longer this pandemic continues the more important it feels to find things to be grateful for. What are some things you’re grateful for at the moment?
- I’ve been learning how much I need to have “safe people” to talk to without needing to pretend everything’s okay all the time. What do you think makes someone safe to talk to about your real life?
- This year I’ve seen my levels of hope go up and down more than usual. What helps you to feel hopeful in your life?
- I feel disconnected from the people who matter to me, especially my family. How are you managing to stay connected with people in a way that sustains you?
Creating a safe space for other people
Having meaningful conversations with people has a lot to do with making them feel safe talking with you. So, how do you achieve this?
Be willing to open up about your own life on an emotional level. Some of us find this harder than others, and that’s okay. You need to decide for yourself what feels appropriate to talk about.
Showing other people what it looks like to be vulnerable is crucial. It’s more likely to help them do the same than just telling them they can talk to you about anything.
When it comes to talking about our mental and emotional health we need to ask the Holy Spirit for an extra dose of wisdom.
Resist the temptation to offer solutions to whatever people tell us, even if those solutions sound biblical. Just because a person tells you about a struggle he or she is experiencing, does not mean that person is asking you how to fix it.
I have people I can rely on just to listen to me talk about whatever I’m going through. They’re willing to simply be present with me. This is so powerful. It reminds me I’m not alone, and that God puts people alongside me in every circumstance.
Ultimately our role is to point people toward the one who provides hope and healing. As 1 Peter 5:7 reminds us,
“Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.”
Taking a step of faith
The GodTools app is here to help you have conversations with the people you care about.
So here’s our invitation to you this month.
Start a conversation with someone about how COVID-19 has impacted him or her emotionally or mentally. If it moves on to talking about the gospel, that’s fantastic. If that does not happen right away, be patient.
You are creating safe space and becoming a safe person for someone.
Please let us know how your conversation goes by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.