How to listen when no one else is

April 3rd, 2019

There’s a lot of talking past each other right now. Listening, true listening, seems harder than ever.

At a recent district event, six of us sat around a table to process our feelings after General Conference 2019. Like a microcosm of both and the world we live in, our table had a sprinkling of theologies, life experience and deeply held convictions. How would this go, I wondered?

Equipped with a timer, a list of questions, ground rules, and 25 minutes, a retired district superintendent, three lay folks, a pastor and I sat at the round table, looked at each other, and began the vulnerable experience of listening to each other.

I needn’t have worried. The questions helped us tap into our own inner resilience, faith and trust in God.

The first question, “How has General Conference 2019 and responses around it both within and beyond the church impacted you?” and the second question, “How do you feel about it?” went pretty well. Haltingly at first, we began to reveal our convictions and reactions. Then as we came around to the end of the circle, the retired D.S. began to speak. His reflection turned into a complaint about what “they believe.” Sheila, a layperson, with opposite views as it turned out, firmly reined him in by reminding him of one of our ground rules to use “I” statements, not “you” statements. He stopped, trailing off, somewhat surprised. But he was gracious.

The third and fourth questions, “How do you deal with challenging circumstances in your life? What practices of faith do you rely on?” caught me off guard. We shifted rather abruptly, it seemed, from topic at hand to our own coping resources. Only in retrospect could I see the genius of the move. We had neatly moved from problems we had no control over to remembering our inner resilience.

The first person to share confessed that when faced with challenging circumstances, she first gets grumpy and then tries to get others to do as she wishes before she eventually remembers to pray. Several us laughed in recognition and the table relaxed. We shared about the power of nature to calm us, the enduring wisdom of the scriptures, and the grace of friends.

The final questions moved us deeper into resilience as we began to envision a new future. “What is your hope for the future, healing and well-being for yourself and the church? How can you contribute to that happening?” One by one we shared our hopes and dreams and considered ways we could be part of the solutions we envisioned.

At the end of 25 minutes, a mini-miracle had unfolded. We had interrupted the reflexive process of speaking past others. Instead, we had listened respectfully, shared vulnerably and reconnected with our own resilience. The future shifted around our table.

Do you need resources to reconnect with your own resilience and to envision a new future? Creating a Culture of Renewal equips you with the capacity to do both.

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