Listening or compromising?

As a college professor, my “first day of class” activities are pretty standard. One of my favorite activities for a class primarily comprised of freshmen only takes a minute or two, but it generally produces huge benefits throughout the course of the semester. I have the students turn to someone in the class they don’t know and introduce themselves. It is such fun to walk around the classroom as my students are talking and see this first set of connections develop. I try to do this activity towards the end of the period so that the conversations begun in my class can naturally continue after the students walk out of the classroom door.

Parents, if your children are anything like my students, they will realize pretty quickly that some of the beliefs they’ve held their entire lives may not be shared by this new person they just met. How your children respond and what they do next could create a relationship that will last through four years of college—and beyond—or it could end the relationship before it even gets off the ground. It is crucial for college students to be able to discuss and understand a viewpoint that is different from their own, especially in the area of religion.

For many students, especially freshmen, this is an incredibly hard thing to do. As parents, from early on you’ve trained your children in the way they should go. You’ve taught them that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. You’ve modeled your faith for them in your words and actions. And now your children are in a situation where it can feel like they are being asked to give up or compromise their core Christian beliefs.

However, there is a difference between listening and compromising, and that’s what I’m encouraging you as parents to convey to your children. Refusing to listen or respectfully discuss other theological viewpoints isn’t necessarily an example of standing strong in one’s faith. Instead, it can often come off as insular, close-minded, and even unloving. It should certainly be the goal of all Christians to share their faith and spread the gospel. But in many instances, especially on a college campus, this can’t be done before a relationship is created and mutual respect is established.

Understanding when to speak, when to listen, when to agree, and when to disagree requires a certain amount of spiritual maturity. Like most positive character traits, this maturity doesn’t come overnight. It doesn’t always come easily. It takes practice and work. It especially takes practice and work when the other person in the conversation doesn’t have the same spiritual maturity. In these situations, encourage your children to remember that winning the argument in the short term might mean losing the opportunity to witness in the long term.

I love seeing new relationships develop among my students during their first semester in college. I love seeing them meet new people and step outside of their comfort zones. And I particularly love seeing friendships created among students from different religious backgrounds. It is such a joy to see spiritual matters being discussed and faith being shared both inside and outside the classroom. Parents, encourage your children to share their faith—but always with gentleness and respect.

Kristi Meyer is in her twelfth year of teaching mathematics at Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wis. She is a member at St. John, Wauwatosa, Wis.

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