Yesterday I got a great compliment; the kind that sticks with you and continues to release its encouragement and affirmation: Have you been taught how to listen and to pray, or did God just make you that way?
That’s how a seminary professor of mine answered most either/or questions. I think I’ll borrow his technique.
On one hand, I love to listen to people’s stories, to hear their struggles, to see their faces light up with joy. I love to ask them questions that help them dig a little deeper or to see their circumstances from a different perspective.
On the other hand, I’ve been taught a lot about how to listen. Of course the basic rule is, “Shut up!” You cannot listen when your mouth is running. And I like to talk…especially about myself. Very vain of me—I know. I’m working on it. I have to tell myself, “shut up,” in my head during every conversation I have. I still get it wrong all the time. I interrupt. I babble on about myself.
But occasionally I actually practice the skills I know.
When I do, I’m always delighted at what I learn about people. I cannot believe the secrets I get entrusted with, the doubts that get voiced, the regrets that finally get expressed, the hopes and dreams that are given voice.
I’ve also been taught how to pray; of course there are many different ways to pray. This particular instance involved my praying for someone else, interceding on her behalf. I don’t think I’ve been taught how to do that. I simply try to avoid phrases like “in a special way.” It doesn’t do much for me. I also try to avoid “just,” as in, “Lord, we just ask…” I’m not just asking; I’m asking. Let’s not dance around it; let’s just be honest with God and what we’re asking of Him. I also try to pray for something, meaning that instead of, “Be with Norma in a special way as she fights cancer,” I might say, “I ask that you give Norma strength and perseverance as she fights cancer.”
Mostly, I listen and try to hear the cries of the heart in front of me, and I offer those to God.
It’s very simple.
It’s easy (when I shut up).
It’s a way to be in the holy, sacred presence of God with another person,…
and that’s a humbling, intimate, moving experience.