In the second of 4 blog articles for i4CC Trevor Hudson shares some reflections around how to engage more intentionally in ‘sacred conversations.’ (Excerpted and adapted with permission from his book, DISCOVERING GOD’S WILL FOR YOUR LIFE -A User’s Guide to Discernment to be published by Struik Christian Media in November 2021.)
Learning to listen well lies at the heart of a sacred conversation. This is a demanding and lifelong journey. How often do we hear comments like, “You’re not listening to me,” “Let me finish my sentence,” “That is not what I am saying.” These typical responses underline the fact that there is a massive difference between merely hearing the words someone says and really listening to understand better what their words mean for them. If we cannot listen to each other well, it is nearly impossible for us to be able to listen well to the God who is constantly communicating with us through our experiences and encounters. When we are deaf to our neighbour, we become deaf to God too.
How do we go about learning to listen well? First, we need to stop talking so much! It can be hard for some of us to put a rein on our constant chatter. Our tongue seems to have a life of its own. On a recent retreat, one retreatant acknowledged that they were addicted to talking. We need to check whether this is true for us as well. Interestingly, James pointed out that that if we cannot control our tongue, our religion is useless. (James 1:26) Controlling our tongues is the first step toward listening to those around us. Furthermore, it is only when we begin to listen to others that we find ourselves able to discern what God may be saying to us as well.
We must learn to be silent, however, not just with our lips. We also need to become quiet within ourselves. This requires a certain self-assurance in ourselves. When we feel secure within, we can listen to others more freely, even when they say things which we see differently. It means that we will not easily get upset when the other person expresses views with which we strongly disagree. We simply listen with an open heart and mind to what is shared. I have often been struck by how God has spoken to me through something that initially disturbed me. If we close the conversation by getting into an argument, we could miss what the Spirit wants to say to us. The sacredness of our conversation gets lost.
Secondly, listening well demands patience. Sacred conversations seldom happen if we are rushed. We need time to reveal ourselves to each other, at our own pace and in our own time. Telling someone ‘to get to the point’ often prevents them disclosing the more vulnerable or personal aspects of their lives. Sometimes, we need to listen to each other at the more superficial levels before we can trust each other with the deeper matters of the soul. When we bear with each other patiently through the surface parts of each other’s story, we discover that our sharing soon drops to another level of depth and meaning. If this is true for our conversations with each other, how much more do we need to be patient in our conversation with God. Often, we are in a hurry to find out what God wants for our lives, while God is in no hurry at all!
Thirdly, listening well usually requires a quiet and private place. People will seldom talk about what is deepest in them unless there is time and privacy. Few practices have enriched my relationships with my loved ones more than spending uninterrupted time with each of them. I enjoy going out with each of them separately so that we can have the space to share in depth with each other in a leisurely and relaxed way. Within these conversations God has repeatedly drawn my attention to how my love can be expressed more meaningfully for those that I say I love the most.
Do you see the critical connection between listening well and discerning God’s personal will? As we embark on this adventure of learning how to listen to those around us – our spouse, our siblings, our friends, our colleagues – listening can become a way of life, a habit, a spiritual practice. We discover that, as this happens, listening well opens both our relationships with each other and the whole realm of the Spirit as well. Our conversations with God and with each other another become sacred. Most importantly, we receive little clues to how we can bring our lives and relationships more into harmony with what God wants.
(If you missed Part 1 of this series, you can find it here https://www.i4cc.co.za/post/the-importance-of-sacred-conversations-for-discerning-god-s-will-part-1-4)