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How to Make the Most of Your Life

How to Make the Most of Your Life

Instincts are a combination of our lived experiences and knowledge.  

Your context informs your instinctual reactions. Each of us are shaped by our life  experiences, painful relational interactions, and political upbringing. Our instincts are  constantly developing as we gain experience and learn more about the world around us.  Instincts aren’t trustworthy unless you’ve taken the time to gain personal experience and  knowledge in the area you’re pursuing. Sometimes our instincts are wrong—no matter how  good our intentions are. 

I made so many mistakes when our church family first moved to the historic — and high poverty community — West Charlotte. My heart, I thought, was in the right place, but I didn’t  understand the unspoken dynamics of racial and economic injustice. I would insist on paying  every time I met with a new friend from the community, never understanding why the people  I met with were insistent that I didn’t pay. I was clueless to the fact that they welcomed me,  but they didn’t want my money or the dynamic of economic imbalance to ever influence our  relationship. It took me several years of building friendships, prayer, repentance, learning, and  growing to figure out that I didn’t have much figured out about building relationships across  dividing lines. I lacked the sociological knowledge for my instincts to effectively align with my  heart. 

Refutation mode is what psychologists call the natural reaction in our brains when we  hear something that we do not agree with and stop listening. Refutation mode implies that  you’ve already done all the thinking that you need to do and no further thought or reflection is  required. When we assume what our neighbors need without taking the time to listen with an  open mind and heart, then we are jeopardizing the relationship as well as our chance to grow  and learn. If we are going to connect with others, we need to take inventory of our instincts.  And we need to learn to separate ourselves from both our instincts and intentions. Learning  your instincts are wrong can bring up feelings of shame, embarrassment, and anger; it can  cause you to get defensive or leave. I encourage you to challenge those feelings—lean into  them. You are not your instincts in the same way that you are not your directional abilities or  workout routine. They are things that are developing as you experience more and learn. 

As we develop our relational instincts, we can look to Jesus and how He responded to people who challenged Him. When Jesus was asked “what is the greatest commandment?” by the religious leader in Mark 12:28-34, He started by praying, “Listen, O Israel, the Lord is the  one and only God.” What seems like a random introductory remark is actually a brilliant way  to connect with a person that was challenging Him. As an expert in religious law, the lawyer  would have prayed this prayer, “the Shema,” that morning. Additionally, most everybody  listening would have prayed it, as well. 

Instead of diving into His answer to the question, Jesus was basically saying, “I’m one of you. I see you. I prayed the same thing you prayed this morning.” He responded to being  confronted by connecting on a personal level. Do you have this same instinct? To respond to confrontation in your interpersonal relationships by connecting at a heart level with the  person that offended you? How about online interaction? When you listen, you learn more  about people’s context and are then able to share more effectively and compassionately what’s  on your mind with them. It also disables refutation mode as you seek new information and experiences to develop your instincts.  

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