Free eBook

How to Have Courageous Conversations on Difficult Topics this Holiday Season

abortion debate courageous conversations empathy grace podcast politics Nov 21, 2023
Two women talking while sitting in chairs.

In an increasingly divisive world, many of us tend to avoid difficult conversations with others–especially when we disagree on politically charged issues like abortion. You may dread the upcoming holiday season when you know you will sit around the dinner table with family and friends who think differently. We can trust God to help us have civil and productive conversations around these necessary topics to have life-changing conversations that lead to unity rather than divisiveness.


What Causes Difficult Conversations?

How we receive information can be a barrier in difficult conversations.  The information we hear is filtered through the lens of our personal experience and history. Ideas and even individual words can have different meanings depending on experiences and associated memories.  

In Angela’s conversation with Lisa Fields, Founder and CEO of the Jude 3 Project, Lisa recounted a story as an example.  A pastor used the word “father” for God while counseling a woman who experienced trauma at the hands of her biological father. It was not comforting for her to be reminded that God is her father. She had a negative association with the word that evoked fear and pain. While the idea of God as “father” may be very comforting and relatable for some, she filtered this information through her life experience of abuse at the hands of a father, and she did not find the word comforting at all. Therefore, it is helpful to understand a person’s context to know how what is communicated will land. 

How We Often Approach Conversations

When approaching a difficult conversation, we typically try to focus on what we want to convey: the truth that we want to speak to the other person. Our beliefs and opinions are personal and sensitive. We may have strong feelings about the topic due to our unique life experiences. We know what we want to convey and believe what we say to be true. This approach involves thinking about what we want to declare rather than how the person we are speaking to will interpret or receive it. We may feel confident, even righteous, in our belief that we are speaking truth, but that does not mean that what we say will be heard, processed, or understood in the way we desire. We feel hurt and offended if our conversation partner cannot understand or is unwilling to agree. Not only have we ended the conversation, we risk damaging the relationship. 

What Can We Do?

When we embark on a difficult conversation, we must change how we approach the topic and give information. Understanding that each person filters information through experience can help us accomplish this. We all process information differently based on our past experiences, hurts, and traumas. It does not mean these conversations should be avoided; we can gain a great deal by approaching them differently

We begin by setting aside our own experiences to delve into the experiences and beliefs of the other person; we listen to their stories. As we learned in Episode 3 with Christy Vines of the IDEOS Institute, listening to another person’s story helps us to develop empathy for that person. Had the pastor mentioned above known the history of abuse suffered by the woman he was counseling, he could have avoided using the word “father” at all–thereby preventing the woman’s reaction and facilitating a much smoother conversation. By listening to the other person's stories with empathy, we develop strategies to approach the conversation to ensure both parties feel heard, respected, and understood. Ultimately, we have better and more productive conversations.

A great model of this behavior is Jesus. In Scripture, we can see how He employed empathic listening first to know the best way to communicate. He tailored his theologic truths to his audience in a caring manner and was well-received

How Can The Church Do Better?

In response to unintended pregnancy and abortion, we know that churches are either staying silent or leaning into politicized rhetoric, which forces us to choose one life, either that of the mother or that of the child, over the other. Taking our example from Jesus, we should remember to ask ourselves how we would want to be treated and act accordingly to others. It may require putting ourselves and our convictions aside and empathizing with someone we do not have much in common with. Jesus did this well. He appealed to their humanity first and tailored His message to fit the recipient. 

In many situations, we feel superior to the person experiencing unintended pregnancy or abortion because we believe that we would never find ourselves in that situation. In reality, we are all flawed, and we all sin. We are also all driven by our life experiences when making decisions. We also need to remember how God values each of us and the meaning of the cross as the great equalizer. Not one of us is worthy, yet we receive God's grace. 

Take this knowledge with you this holiday season and enter into essential and challenging conversations. Lead with curiosity and empathy, tailor your message to the recipient, and remember that each one of us is undeserving of grace, and yet it is offered to us equally by a loving God.


Join us for Important Conversations

After the holidays, you can put this blog to use and join us on Friday, January 5th, the National Day of Dialogue (NDOD). NDOD is a coalition of like-minded organizations interested in promoting a civil discourse for the good of democracy, and the Church should be engaged. As an awareness day, National Day of Dialogue encourages communities across America to pursue real dialogue as a path to healing and reconciliation, one conversation at a time. ProGrace is proud to be a partner in driving conversations that build community. To learn more and participate in a ProGrace conversation, visit National Day of Dialogue for details. 

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We won't send spam, and we will never sell your information, for any reason.