Spiritual Practice: Growing in Loving Conversation

by Lynne M. Baab

(This article appeared in Alive Now, January/February 2017.)

Because God values caring and supportive relationships, we know that God is eager to help us grow in our ability to show love in conversations. And because God longs for our companionship, we can expect that when we ask for help in this area, God will nurture our ability to listen in prayer.

Interpersonal communication experts note that many conversation skills can be learned. This is good news! All of us can improve as conversationalists. In order to learn and improve, we must engage in honest assessment of our current patterns of listening and talking. We must desire to change, and we need to work on specific skills.

The suggestions below can help with self-assessment of conversational patterns as well as guide goals for growth.

1. Pick one of the four Gospels and read from the beginning up to the triumphal entry of Jesus on Palm Sunday. Observe the patterns of Jesus’ conversation. In what ways does he affirm or address what his conversation partners say? In what ways does he challenge them? What do you see about Jesus’ conversations with the One he calls Father? What might you learn from Jesus’ conversation style? Write or draw a prayer reflecting on Jesus’ conversation style and what you hope to learn from his model.

2. Daniel Wolpert writes that a “rich, lively conversation encompasses times of listening and times of responding.”[1] For a couple of days, watch your pattern of listening and responding in your conversations. Do you tend to be a quiet listener? Do you find it hard to talk about what matters to you? Or do you tend to talk more than your share in conversations? Write or draw a prayer describing what you have observed and asking God to help you grow into a “rich, lively” conversationalist.

3. Daniel Wolpert also writes that a good conversation has “times of speech and times of silence.” Discomfort with silence is very common, both in conversations with people and in prayer. Feelings of awkwardness and even fear when silence falls can have many causes. For a couple of days, allow silence to fall in your conversations and notice how you feel. See if you can identify some patterns in your feelings about silence, and then write or draw a prayer about those feeling and patterns, knowing that God can help you grow in comfort with silence.  

4. In a conversation, when we are no longer willing to listen, we might engage in one of these strategies:

  • change the subject
  • tell a story from our own life
  • give advice
  • jump up and do something
  • make a judgment

Watch your conversation pattern for a couple of days. Which of these strategies do you engage in most often? What helps you avoid those strategies? Write or draw a prayer asking for God’s help to stay engaged in conversations in those times when listening is important.

Resources on listening:

My book, The Power of Listening: Building Skills for Mission and Ministry

Blog posts on listening

More articles on listening:

To be a neighbor must include listening
Listening past the Noise
Letting go of agendas so we can listening to God and others

[1] Daniel Wolpert, Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices (Upper Room Books, 2003).