Patrick Gray and Justin Skeesuck are lifelong best friends who’ve navigated the highs and lows of life together as Justin has battled a degenerative neuromuscular disease. Despite Justin’s limited mobility, they’ve gone on many adventures and along the way, they’ve learned to see life with fresh eyes. They are now intentional about cultivating ordinary moments to connect more meaningfully with the people they encounter each day. Today, they are sharing insights that can change your heart perspective and allow you to create lasting connections that will grow your heart of compassion and leave those around you feeling cared for and treasured. It’s a joy to welcome Patrick and Justin to the farm’s front porch today…
My son, Josh, and I [Patrick] were listening to music as we drove down the road, and a few lines from a song caught my ear.
Of tending to this fire
I’ve used up all I’ve collected
I have singed my hands
I asked my son, “What do you think the singer is saying here? What is he talking about?”
Josh sat quietly in the back seat, thinking about the question. His answer was a little heavier than I expected. “I think he is saying, ‘Sometimes you’re just done.’ When life gets hard, it’s hard to keep going.’”
I don’t know why I asked my next question. I didn’t really think about it—it just came out. Looking at Josh in the rearview mirror, I asked, “Have you ever felt this way?”
The back seat was unusually quiet for a few seconds. I kept glancing at Josh while keeping my attention on the road. His head was down, slowly nodding as he processed his response. “Yeah.”
Josh is ten.
“When?” I asked.
Without missing a beat, he said, “When I was little, and I would get in trouble with you or mom for something, sometimes I wondered if you still loved me.”
He paused for a few seconds and then continued, “When I felt like that, I wanted to disappear.”
A little choked up, I responded, “Even though we’ve always told you there is nothing you could do to change our love for you?”
“Yeah, because when I was little, I didn’t know it yet.”
My heart broke for a moment. I asked, “How about now that you’re older?”
“No, now I know you love me no matter what.”
I have spent a lot of time digesting that conversation. There’s a lot I have taken for granted when dealing with conflict, discipline, and instruction.
More often than not, I have approached situations with my children from my perspective.
Not because I am trying to place more importance on mine than theirs, but because it’s easier, it takes less work.
Perspective matters. Sometimes it matters more than anything else.
My son’s insight has taken me back to the times I have had to discipline my kids. I know I approached those situations with my life experiences; my understanding of love; my perspective of forgiveness, responsibility, and accountability.
But my children had only three, four, or five years of experience to shape their view of the world. There was a stark difference between their perspectives and mine.
And because I failed to recognize this, I have given each of them moments of doubt.
Our children give us many of our greatest gifts. While being a parent is beautiful in and of itself, our children’s innocent and inquisitive minds can call us into amazing depths.
Their understanding of the world often exceeds our own.
They have so much to offer us, but only if we stop and listen, and take the time to understand them.
They can open our eyes to new and wonderful things, but only if we choose to see them, only if we choose to experience the world through their eyes.
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen R. Covey writes, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
An expert in the field of interpersonal relations, Covey states that the single most important thing we can do for others is to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
There are thousands of sayings addressing the importance of listening and understanding. One of our favorites is the proverb “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2, esv).
When we listen with a sincere desire to know someone’s perspective, when we seek to understand the heart behind their ideas, beliefs, fears, and aspirations, we are participating in a remarkable act of compassion.
We are showing them they are valued, we are demonstrating our love for them, and we are acknowledging they have something to offer us.
In moments like these we are showing others they have purpose.
And often, our eyes are opened to things we’ve never seen, our hearts are exposed to things we’ve never felt, and our minds are filled with things we’ve never known.
But when we choose the fool’s path and “listen with the intent to reply,” we are tearing down the person on the other end of the conversation. We are saying their ideas, beliefs, and feelings don’t matter.
Worse yet, we are declaring that they don’t matter.
How often do we listen to our kids with the intent to reply, with the drive to fix whatever is wrong, as opposed to listening to their words, their emotions, their hearts?
If we want to love our children completely, then we must know them completely—or at least try to.
This begins with recognizing that they perceive the world differently than we do. And it continues as we seek to understand the world they see.
It turns out the same rules apply to people our own age or older than us.
The adults we encounter may have far more life experience than a four-year-old, but their experience and understanding will differ from our own.
No one, not a single person, will have the same perspective as we do.
Whether we’re disciplining a child, having a hard conversation with a husband or wife, or dealing with the difficulties that arise from working with people, we must remember that no one sees things the exact same way we do.
As parents, spouses, and friends, we can’t help but wonder how many broken hearts and wounded souls could be avoided if we all would seek to understand someone else’s perspective before we react, before we speak —
before we expect them to understand our own.
Born in the same small town just a few days apart, Justin Skeesuck and Patrick Gray are lifelong best friends. At age 15, a car accident triggered a dormant neuromuscular disease in Justin’s body resulting in a life lived in a wheelchair. Justin’s wheelchair hasn’t stopped them from having many adventures. In 2014, they tackled a life-changing 500-mile pilgrimage through Spain known as the Camino de Santiago. Most people attempt this epic journey on foot. Justin traveled the entire distance in his wheelchair, pushed by Patrick (and others).
Justin and his wife Kirstin currently reside in Idaho along with their three children Jaden, Noah, and Lauren. Patrick and his wife Donna live nearby with their three kids Cambria, Joshua, and Olivia. Together, Justin and Patrick run their organization Push, Inc., sharing unapologetic words of hope and faith through their writing and speaking, as they share the message that we can achieve more together.
Their latest book, Imprints, explores the long-lasting impact our words and actions have on our world, reminding us that the legacy we leave behind is built on who we are and how we live our lives day to day. Each small choice we make can spread joy or pain, light or darkness, to others. When we look at other people through a lens of love and compassion, our interactions can leave them feeling valued and treasured.
[ Our humble thanks to Tyndale House for their partnership in today’s devotion ]