“I said I wanted to talk. I did not mean I wanted to listen.” And thus, we have completely lost the
meaning of conversation. The word’s origin
is from a 1500s meaning, which was “to live with.” It was also the legal term for sexual
intercourse. Thus, conversation was to
engage in a give and take, a knowing and understanding of the other. That means it is two-sided, a dialogue, which
is much more than just what I have to say.
The two skills needed for
conversation are, first, deep listening (hearing what is real about the other) and,
secondly, finding your voice (expressing what is real about you). Both are
significant. If I never express the real
me, you’ll never know me. If I refuse to
hear you or only listen superficially, I’ll never know you. Our relationship will never be intimate. Face-t0-face conversation builds community in
a way that text-to-talk never can. To hear the
heart takes much more than words because to develop conversation that is
caring, I have to hear beyond the words and listen for the expression of the
heart, which takes place in tone of voice and body language.
Whether in listening or speaking,
we all need to learn to be more intentional and confident when engaging in
conversation. It takes initiative to
enter deep places in which God can lead and reach us through our community
conversations. It takes courage to
listen to others with whom we do not agree, to hear those we don’t understand. It takes a surety of self to allow someone to
be different than me and not have to change them to conform to my views.
Conversation becomes a personal
discipline when I engage deeply and it becomes a spiritual discipline when I
keep God in the center of it – when I listen for His movement, His Spirit in
myself and in you. It is a discipline
because it begins with love: the love
for God which allows me to love others enough to hear them. It allows me to love others enough to tell
them the truth. It allows me to love
others without judging them by my filters, which means to see the other person
through God’s eyes. I may need help learning
to listen to a difficult person or my enemy.
I may need help with my beloved family, for whether I would love them
for my sake or theirs, I would miss the opportunity to love them for God’s
Some of the skills needed for
God-centered conversation are not new to most.
To be a good listener, we know to listen with our agenda aside, to ask
for more of their story, to listen to the emotions behind the words, even to attend to their agenda. It is a discipline to honor and acknowledge
another’s point of view. There are other
skills, though, we neglect in listening:
to pray, to be open and open to change, to be willing to hear a person
all the way, to desire what God wants, to be willing to learn, to intend a good
result of the conversation.
Even the skills of saying our
part, our words and idea-expressions may, at first, be obvious: tell the truth, start
with “I” statements, be clear, distinguish between fact and emotion. If there is a desire for action from another,
be specific with action and timeline.
Could there be others? I return
to prayer – let’s make it the first and best action we take before the words
come out of the mouth. Ask God to lead
to explain without complaining and to express results with God in mind. Don’t minimize your story or point of view
any more than the other person’s.
An unusual or less thought about
part of conversation is the silence between the words. What is being said that the words are not
telling? What is the tone of voice, the
body language saying? What if we sat in
silence with each other to give space for ideas to grow, to give space for
hearts to hear. It is a discipline to
let silence speak, too.
Realize that in basic
conversation (not in teaching or persuasion), we hear to know each other,
identify with each other and join with each other, even when we have
differences. Community grows when we can
hear another person’s heart. Conversation builds community when we can invite
more to the table, more people and more ideas.
Many of the recorded
conversations of Jesus with people took place in “their” space, where he met
them. He met Peter by the lake where his
livelihood was, the woman at the well where sustenance was, the Pharisees in
the temple where their duty lay, the cripple at the pool in a supposed place of
healing. Jesus didn’t very often go for
“neutral.” He met people in the public
square and in their homes. People are
more comfortable there.
Jesus often did not leave them
there, though. He knew how to lead them through conversation through the facts
to their thoughts and opinions, to identify their deep desires, and through
their crises to discussions of the sacred.
He listened. He asked
questions. He pointed to healing. He pointed to God.
It is truly a discipline to engage
in the knowing search of another person, which is conversation’s goal. It is a discipline to reveal our own truths
and lies. It is a greater discipline to
let a healing Savior to be in the center of all conversations so that the
greater community can be built.
And what if our conversation with
each other told the truth about the kind of conversation we have with the Lord
of the Universe? How well we listen to
each other may indicate how well we listen to God. How much truth we tell to each other may
indicate how much truth we tell God. How
much we connect and community-build with each other may tell the greatest truth
of how well we are connected with the Triune God, who is, most of all, Community.