Have you ever been in a conversation with others and realized you had checked out? You see their mouths moving, but aren't engaged? Situations like this make me ask:
- Why is it so difficult to stay in the present?
- How can we remain engaged when we are in conversation?
- How can we become better listeners?
We live in a technological age where people rarely do just one thing at a time. For instance, I found out the other day that it's possible for a person to be on the phone with you while texting someone else. No wonder I sometimes have to repeat things in phone conversations. Our world moves fast, and we're tempted to hold on while riding at breakneck speed, but at what cost?
People Need to Connect
We live in an age where people are meeting together less and less. Isolation, depression, and loneliness abound. We long for human connection, but we're finding poor substitutes for community online. So we need to make a concerted effort to make connections when given the opportunity.
Have you noticed that when you are at a register, the cashier sometimes doesn't even make eye contact? When you're in stores, ask cashiers how their day is, looking directly into their eyes. It's possible to engage someone even when you have just a few moments. Your engagement will help people feel that they matter. Sometimes all it takes is asking simple question, "So, has it been busy today?" People are dying to talk. The problem is that no one is really listening.
There Are No Chance Meetings
Sometimes it's easy to go about our days thinking they are insignificant—that each encounter we have with someone is simply a chance encounter. But Psalm 139:2-3 says, "You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways." The God of the universe is aware of what you do in your day-to-day existence. You make your plans, but God knows how it will all turn out. We sometimes forget that when we make plans. We get the false sense that we are in control, and then we try to retain that control when in reality, God is the one in control.
We should keep this in mind as we meet people during the day. God places opportunities to engage with others, and we must learn to recognize them. Listening matters because the person before us is someone God loves, someone God values. And we can ask God for his eyes to see people as he sees them. If my focus is on the person before me, and I see that he or she is of value to God, I will be less tempted to make every conversation about me.
A perfect example of this is when my dryer stopped working. Initially this surprise irritated me. Eventually the repairman arrived, and I watched as he checked for the problem. Then I remembered that God knew all about the dryer and who would be fixing it. That reminder prompted me to start a conversation with him. Eventually it led to a conversation about God. I realized later it wasn't about my dryer at all. God had provided me with an opportunity to share him with the repairman.
Stay in Step with the Spirit
Those who know God personally are filled with the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:25 says, "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." We may not know what the person before us is going through in his or her life, but God knows. If we are in step with the Spirit, God can lead our conversation. And when you remember that God is with you every step you take, you talk to God as you listen to others. God will tell you what to ask, what to say, and when to keep silent. Being in step with the Spirit means you are open to his leading, therefore you are not in the driver's seat. When we are controlling things, we are calling the shots and are tempted to make each conversation about us and our experiences. Even as the other person shares, we get our next point ready, formulating our thoughts so they come out just right.
When we are in step with the Spirit, we wait patiently for the other person to communicate. When we are in tune with the Spirit we realize we are not the reason our listener was blessed, refreshed, or encouraged. God is the source, and sometimes we get the privilege of being used in the process.
Learn to Listen
God tells us in James 1:19, "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." We apply this verse when we learn to listen well. Everyone has the basic need to be heard. God provides opportunities to practice listening every day. Seeing these opportunities as from God helps us have the right perspective.
How different our interactions would be if we were quick to listen instead of quick to speak. Growing up in a family of five children, I fought to be heard. It's still difficult when we all get together as some habits are hard to break. But to become a better listener, I prayed, waited patiently, and learned to respond with grace.
Too often in conversations, we respond prematurely, frustrating our conversation partners because their message was not heard. Pray that God will help you be quick to listen—that he will give you patience to hear others. And when you respond, pray for God's words—words that are drenched in grace and let the person know that someone is actually listening.
Anne Peterson is a poet, speaker, and freelance author. If she isn't writing she's having fun with grandsons, Jude and Charlie. Visit Anne on Facebook or at annepeterson.com, where you can read her blog and listen to her poetry.
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