Have you ever hung up after a long call with a friend, only to realize you said little more than hello? Maybe you even heard them say, “It was good to catch up,” but they haven’t caught up with you at all. I’ve also done more than my share of the talking in a get-together, only to realize I hadn’t heard much from anyone else there.
On either end of this barrage of words is a pure motive, or at least I like to think so. We all want to make others comfortable, and when we sense what could be an awkward silence, we fill in the gaps with a story—or three. But the antidote to the awkwardness isn’t in more telling; it’s in more asking.
A natural freedom in conversation between close friends exists when one of us shares something about ourselves before the other inquires of us. Yet sometimes in new or even established relationships, we long to be pursued in conversation.
Opening the floodgate of conversation by posing a question can be a little scary. Some people, if given the baton, will run their words from here to Topeka before taking a breath. The key is to ask open-ended questions that beckon some depth in response. Those responses will elicit more questions, and before long, you’re learning wonderful things about someone else and adding depth to your friendship.
When we’re doing all the talking, we’re not learning. We already know what we’re going to say, but hearing another person’s story broadens our minds and perspective. But this only works if we’re willing to listen.
You talk, I listen.
I talk, you listen.
Yet this elementary approach often escapes me in my conversations with God. I’m acing the talking and asking part; it’s the listening where I could use a tutorial. I’ve been known to tell him everything on my mind, ask for his help in a few areas, and then get up and walk away, thinking we’re all caught up.
Prayer time complete!
Except it’s not.
If prayer is a conversation, it should go both ways.
One-way chats can feel good for the moment. We vented, we got it all out, we told the story we’ve been meaning to tell, but we didn’t get any answers or gain any wisdom. If we only talk to God and don’t stop to listen, we may as well speak into a voice recorder rather than talk to the One who knows all things.
When I’m quiet and still long enough for him to respond, he does. It’s not Morgan Freeman’s voice booming through the room, although I’d love nothing more! Sometimes he responds through a thought pushing to the front of my mind, a verse I read and ponder, or the lyrics of the worship song I’m listening to. But I know for sure that when I take the time to listen, he speaks. Sometimes the answer is comforting and reassuring, and sometimes it’s challenging and convicting, but each time it’s for my good.
When you’re asking God for direction or wisdom, sit in the quiet. Set a timer for whatever amount of time seems reasonable to you. Five minutes or ten, whatever you can manage. If you expect a response from him, you’ll get one. It may not happen before the timer on your phone sounds or before an awkward silence, but it will come.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV).
We can transfer our newly refined listening skills to our friendships. The next time you’re out with friends, challenge yourself to do more asking than talking. Ask friends what they’re looking forward to in this season, what they’re learning right now, what’s challenging in their lives. You may be surprised to learn how much is going on in the most familiar faces in your circle. Love them with your listening.
Melinda Mattson will follow any sign that leads to the promise of vintage décor and repurposed treasures. As a wife and mom to two dear daughters, her home is filled with equal measures of sugar and spice. She loves kindness and Jesus and is glad they’re meant to come as a package deal. She aims to embrace both with equal fervor. Melinda blogs at www.melindamattson.com.
Photograph © Priscilla Du Preez, used with permission