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Listening and Praying

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?

Yes.

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.

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