All of us were silent for a few seconds after she asked the question.
It happened while we were on a short break in one of my classes. An international student asked the rest of the class why so many Americans greet other people by asking “How are you?” but then don’t wait for a detailed response. We sheepishly smiled, but no one had a good answer.
The student’s question remained fixed in my mind for a number of days. I kept thinking about how, as Christians who work and/or study in higher education, we can – and should – do better. And, I kept thinking about what could happen if we did do better.
What could happen if we not only noticed others and asked about their well-being but also took the time to listen to their responses?
Joseph did just that. According to Genesis 40, Joseph was falsely accused and put into prison with Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker. The Scriptures tell us that one night, the cupbearer and the baker both had dreams. Joseph did not initially know that, but the next day, he did notice that they were sad.
He could have just ignored their sadness. But, instead, he leaned into their situation with a genuine interest in their well-being.
He asked them, “Why do you look so sad today?”
Then, he took the time to listen to their responses.
Those actions, on the part of Joseph, led to a series of amazing events (see Genesis 41). For instance, Joseph was eventually given the opportunity to be used by God to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. That experience led to his attainment of a significant leadership role in Egypt. In that role, he was used by God to lead the way in preparing for a severe famine. As a result of those preparations, many people survived the famine.
His example provides us with some important insights as we interact with others in higher education.
- Joseph demonstrated that it is possible to maintain a focus on others’ well-being even while experiencing our own challenging circumstances.
Rather than focusing on his own circumstances of being in prison, Joseph lifted his eyes and looked at the others around him. He noticed them. He asked about them.
How often do we, in higher education, get so focused on the challenges that we face in our own work and/or study that we fail to take the time to reach out to others?
- Joseph’s willingness to listen led to a discussion that opened a door for him to be used of God in a way that resulted in many other such opportunities.
Had Joseph not taken the time to listen to the cupbearer and the baker share about why they were sad, he would not have known about the two dreams. Then, he probably would not have had the privilege of being used by God to interpret those dreams.
Though we know that God can accomplish His will in any way that He wants, I have to wonder how the events of Joseph’s life might have been different had he not taken the time to listen.
I also have to wonder how the events of our lives, and the lives of those around us in the colleges and universities in which we work and/or study, might be different if we took the time to listen.
- Joseph expressed his confidence in God’s ability to intervene even before he knew all of the details of the situation.
Even before the cupbearer and the baker shared the details of their dreams with him, Joseph expressed confidence that God could provide the interpretation.
And, God did come through. He gave Joseph the interpretation for each of the dreams.
How often do we listen to the needs and desires of others in higher education with a confident expectation in God’s ability to intervene in powerful ways?
As Christians, if we viewed our interactions with others as opportunities to allow God to work in and through us for the sake of His Kingdom, perhaps we would be more willing to engage with others beyond the initial – and sometimes rote and superficial – greetings.
Perhaps we would be more willing to take the time to truly listen.
Let’s follow Joseph’s example and then wait with confident expectation to see how God works in and through our conversations with others.