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Renewal by Listening

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master." -Ernest Hemingway

“Hey, thanks for the talk, that was really helpful.”

How many times a week do you hear this from your friends? A lot? Not so often? I realized this week when a close friend said something similar that it’s not often someone says ‘thanks’ to me for our conversation. Partially because not every conversation is worthy of gratitude...but mainly because I so often skip doing the work required to be a good conversationalist and friend.

There is a give and take to a conversation with a friend. There are times when they ask for your opinion or you feel like you know them well enough to interject and call attention to a blind spot. But how does this develop? It takes years of walking with someone to really know those moments intuitively. So what did I do that was so special to this friend for him to thank me? To be honest, I just let them talk. They were experiencing a range of emotions, some more intensely than others - but overall, I could sense they were dealing with some deeper feelings that weren’t quite articulated.

One of the most valuable things I’ve learned over the last year is that people often think they’re looking for more information, but usually, they have all the information they need. What they’re really yearning for is connection. We want to feel as if we’re not alone with all the information we have. We want someone to feel what we’re feeling rather than tell us what to do.

We’re afraid of feelings in our culture. We’re afraid to explore them. We’re afraid of what will happen if we pursue them. Even for ‘feelers’ like myself - I so often adopt the attitude that if I don’t allow myself to feel it, it will probably go away (it never does…) So when we seek to really understand someone, to hear what their hearts are feeling, we have to go a level deeper in the conversation. And many times, this means simply listening and letting your friend know that you understand what they are trying to express. It means allowing them to feel. It also means allowing yourself to feel.

This week, we entered the season of Lent. A time to reflect, repent and take stock on our mortality and the humility that should accompany it. How can we enter a season of renewal with our relationships these next 40 days?

I would suggest that the renewal a lot of us need this Lenten season in our relationships is to stop talking so much. If you’re like me, you spend a lot of your time figuring out the right things to say, how to say them in a way that is ‘effective’ and ‘meaningful’ and other intentional words like that...but I was reminded this week that I have left the necessary foundational work, the ‘baby steps’ of being a friend by the wayside. I think I have the advanced tools of telling people how to do things - and if I say it in just the right way, surely they will change and be better. You know when my friends don’t say ‘thanks for the conversation’ to me? When it wasn’t a conversation - but rather a lecture on all the things I think they should do.

As I consider my humble position on this earth - “from dust to dust” -  I need to reconsider my ability to connect with people. I need to slow down my eagerness to command and speculate. I need to put the training wheels back on as embarrassing as that can be to admit. I need to make the messy work of listening, reflecting and entering the feelings with my friends these next 40 days.

What would it mean for you to connect more with what someone is feeling when they talk to you rather than decide what they should do?