How to Listen When No One Else Is

Rebekah Simon-Peter —  April 3, 2019 — Leave a comment

There’s a lot of talking past each other right now. Listening, true listening, seems harder than ever.  Add to that the polarizing results of General Conference 2019 and it’s a wonder United Methodists can hear each other at all.

At a recent district event, six of us sat around a table to process our feelings after General Conference 2019. Like a microcosm of both Men And Women Sitting In A Circle During Group Therapy, Supportichurch and the world we live in, our table had a sprinkling of theologies, life experience, and deeply held convictions. How would this go, I wondered?  My expectations weren’t very high.

Equipped with a timer, a list of questions, ground rules, and 25 minutes, a retired DS, three lay folks, a pastor and I sat at the round table, looked at each other warily, and began the vulnerable experience of listening, truly listening, to each other.

I needn’t have worried. The questions helped us tap into our own inner resilience, faith, and trust in God. Click To Tweet

The first set of questions, “How has General Conference 2019 and responses around it both within and beyond the church impacted you?” followed by “How do you feel about it?” went pretty well. Haltingly at first, we began to reveal our convictions and reactions. Then as we came around to the end of the circle, the retired DS began to speak. His reflection turned into a complaint about what “they believe.” Sheila, a lay person, with opposite views as it turned out, firmly reined him in by reminding him of one of our ground rules to use “I” statements, not “you” statements. He stopped, trailing off, somewhat surprised.   But he was gracious.

The second set of questions, “How do you deal with challenging circumstances in your life? What practices of faith do you rely on?” caught me off guard. We shifted rather abruptly, it seemed, from the topic at hand to our own coping resources. Only in retrospect could I see the genius of the move. We had neatly moved from problems we had no control over to remembering our inner resilience.

The first person to share confessed that when faced with challenging circumstances, she first gets grumpy, and then tries to get others to do as she wishes before she eventually remembers to pray.   Several us laughed in recognition and the table relaxed.   We shared about the power of nature to calm us, the enduring wisdom of the scriptures, and the grace of friends.

The third and final set of questions moved us deeper into resilience as we began to envision a new future. “What is your hope for the future, healing and well-being for yourself and the church? How can you contribute to that happening?” One by one we shared our hopes and dreams and considered ways we could be part of the various solutions we envisioned.

At the end of 25 minutes, a mini-miracle had unfolded. We had interrupted the reflexive process of speaking past each other.  Instead, we had listened quietly and respectfully, shared vulnerably, and reconnected with our own resilience. The future shifted around our table.

Do you need resources to reconnect with your own resilience and to envision a new future? Creating a Culture of Renewal equips you with the capacity to do both.

Rebekah Simon-Peter

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