When Christians Fail To Listen

One of my favorite films is To Have and Have Not with Humphrey Bogart (playing Harry Morgan) and Lauren Bacall (Marie). Bogie is a fishing boat captain on a small Caribbean island, Bacall is an American stuck there with no way back to the States unless Bogie will take her. He’s disinclined.

The supporting cast is led by Walter Brennan (Eddie) who plays a rummy deck hand that Bogie allows to work for him. Brennan has one question he asks everyone he meets for the first time:

Eddie: Was you ever bit by a dead bee?

Marie: Were you?

Eddie: You’re all right, lady … . You know, you gotta be careful of dead bees if you’re going around barefooted. ‘Cause if you step on ’em they can sting you just as bad as if they was alive. Especially if they was kind of mad when they got killed. I bet I’ve been bit a hundred times that way.

Marie: You have? Why don’t you bite them back?

Eddie: That’s what Harry always says. ‘Cause I ain’t got no stinger.

Toward the end of the movie, Bogart has a change of heart about helping Bacall out the jam she’s in and, in a humorous twist, Brennan finds himself on the receiving end of the bee interrogation:

Slim: Was you ever bit by a dead bee?

Eddie: Was you?

Slim: Yeah. You know, you gotta be careful of dead bees. They can sting ya just as bad as live ones, especially if they was kinda mad when they got killed.

Eddie: I feel like I was talkin’ to myself.

Slim: I bet I’ve been bit a hundred times that way.

Eddie: Why don’t ya bite ’em back?

Slim: I would, only I haven’t got a stinger.

Eddie: Oh, I remember you. You’re all right. She can come, Harry. It’s OK with me. Now I’ll have the two of you to take care of, won’t I?

“Was you ever bit by a dead bee?”

As a kid first watching this movie I knew exactly what he meant, which puts me in good company apparently. Some others in the movie don’t, and they treat Brennan as a crazy old drunk. They have no idea what he’s talking about and they don’t bother to try to find out either.

I wonder if Christians can be accused of the same.

When we come across someone different from us do we treat them with disdain or, even worse, ignore them? Do we not even bother to try to figure out what they’re talking about?

Let me make this plainer: Do I not even bother with them?

I think I do, at least sometimes.

Yet I have the Spirit of Christ in me. This is the Spirit who reconciles, who comforts and counsels and advocates. Am I quenching the Spirit by refusing to give some people the time of day, let alone take time to help them?

Yes. Yes, I think I am.

I’d like to tell you I have an answer for this. I don’t.

I have regrets. I regret the way I’ve treated people and the way I’ve treated God. And I pray that God will lead me in repentance of my ways and renewal in relationship with the people he puts in my life each day.

I also have encouragement. As I said, Christ has given me his Spirit, sent from our loving Father. God wants to be with me even when I’m not treating others well. His Spirit in me – the Spirit that he has promised will never leave me – conforms me to the likeness of his Son.

And if there’s anyone who knew how to take time for the people around him each day, it’s Jesus.


When I was nine years old a live bee stung me on my tongue. There’s a story in there for another day. Suffice to say, though, that the live bee didn’t stay alive for long.

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14 Responses to When Christians Fail To Listen

  1. “Yet I have the Spirit of Christ in me. This is the Spirit who reconciles, who comforts and counsels and advocates. Am I quenching the Spirit by refusing to give some people the time of day, let alone take time to help them?” I like that

    Tim I often wonder if God has a great big rug! Maybe it’s persian, perhaps shag, maybe it’s a full room or just a centerpiece. Whatever it is it must be really big! I’ve come to learn the name of this rug is “It’s in the past, God’s forgiven it and so I have moved on.”. As we sweep under it the crumbs, left over dirt from broken relationships,

    Offenses that we have caused or that we have suffered, that we fail to go back to heal or allow to be fully healed. Then because they are never discussed, just get swept under that rug, continue to sting. Just like that stinger in us from the wasp that just stung us.

    Whether we refuse to go and deal with it after we have caused an offense, or just as importantly we fail to allow the other party to come to us to deal with it. The leftovers of that offense that we like to think we have swept under that rug, just continue to sting.

    Thanks Tim!

  2. Erica M. says:

    I recall one time, on a forum or some place, asking why my fellow Christians continued to go round in circles with someone of a different belief. I pointed out that these kinds of discussions tended to grow hostile and generally drove the other person away rather than helping them understand our beliefs better. The overwhelming response was “It’s those darned atheists’ fault!” and “God didn’t call us to be pantywaists!” I’ve long since learned that bullheadedness is a human condition overall. XD

    As for getting stung by bees, whenever I hear about that I hear Larry the Cucumber in my head saying “I got stung by a bee, right on the lip!”

  3. Nick says:

    Love it, Tim – your cultural references are so much more classy than mine.

  4. Larus Press says:

    Recently, I’ve been connecting through work with a person who is so like me it’s scarey. My hubby confirms this, so it isn’t my imagination. And she gets it too.
    Unfortunately, we don’t like the aspects of ourselves we see in the other person. Fortunately, it’s all for good purpose. As we see ourselves in the imperfections of the other, it gives us both pause to consider: am I like this with everybody? Well then, it’s time to change!
    This has positively cured me of judging others… which is how I get to the point of your post (great post, by the way!)
    Whether neglecting to listen attentively, or refusing to take the other person seriously, we are judging – assessing whether this connection is worthy of my time and attention.
    I love what you say – and how you quote scripture – and the bottom line, for me is, Jesus gave me the time of day, so I endeavour to give mine to others. It’s humbling to see yourself in someone else’s behaviour. And a wonderful lesson in God’s grace.

    • Tim says:

      Great insight on that aspect of judging others – whether they are worthy of our time and attention. Withholding that is just one more way of being judgmental, you’re right. Thanks, Sarah.

      • Jeannie says:

        I really like that, Sarah: “Jesus gave me the time of day, so I endeavour to give mine to others.” And you do; I know from experience that you’re a gracious listener and hearer!

        Thanks for this post, Tim: many times when I’m walking to and from school with my son, he is eagerly trying to interact with others (even strangers) by saying hi. There is quite a contrast between those who are willing to give him time and attention and those who are not. I can’t presume to read others’ minds and know exactly why some respond positively and some don’t — but I do see the contrast, and it reminds me that I may be really affecting someone’s day by whether I give them of my time or just rush past. So this is good to ponder today.

  5. Aimee Byrd says:

    Today, on the way to a long weekend in Deep Creek, MD, I passed a hitchhiker. It was on my favorite backroad, that I only get to travel on this trip. It’s a WV meets MD kind of road. Not much traffic. He was old, with a white beard that would put Phil Robertson to shame. He had several bags. Why in the world was he on THAT road HITCHHIKING?! I so badly wanted to stop, wanted to get his story. But I am a mom with kids in the car. I think self-defensively, unfortunately. This post makes me think of him. All I did was offer him a prayer.

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