Two Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Friendship, Loneliness, and Prayer: When to Talk

Lynne Baab • Wednesday November 15 2023

Friendship, Loneliness, and Prayer: When to Talk

If listening is a major way to show love and care in conversations, should we always listen and never talk? No. How do we know when to listen and talk when we are conversing with a friend, and we want to nurture our connection with them? Ah, that’s the challenging part that requires wisdom. We can ask God for wisdom and rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us.

When I ponder why I talk in conversations, I can think of many reasons:

(1) I’m often looking for support and encouragement. To receive it, I have to reveal what’s going on in my life.

(2) I love conversations about topics I’m interested in. I relish that kind of give and take where our ideas build on each other, and I learn new things not only from the other person but from the new ideas that come to me as I process the topic out loud.

(3) Listening all the time in a friendship relationship can come across as paternalistic, as if I am always the giver and the other person is the taker.

(4) If I listen constantly and share nothing about my weaknesses or struggles, I can come across as someone completely together. I’m not! And I don’t want to seem intimidating.

(5) Some people talk a lot, and some talkers feel ashamed that they don’t listen well. I don’t want people to feel that way, so when I’m with someone whose words seem to go on and on, I try to say some things to keep the conversation in balance for their sake as much as for mine.

(6) If a friend is sharing a struggle, sometimes it helps them to hear a brief story of how I have struggled in a similar way, not to turn the conversation back to myself, but to express solidarity.

Maybe you’ll think of other reasons why you talk in conversations rather than focusing only on listening.

In 2011, I interviewed more than sixty people for my book on listening, and I read sections from a stack of communication textbooks. In 2012, I wrote the book. In the first few years after the book was released, I led numerous seminars and retreats for churches on listening. All the participants agreed that listening skills are thin on the ground, so nurturing those skills is a good idea. I know my obsession about the value of listening comes from some extended family members who are terrible listeners and have deeply hurt me.

In the decade since that flurry of activity about listening, I have become more interested in the pattern of conversations. Who talks? When? Why? For how long? What makes a conversation satisfying? I am still committed to the profound significance of listening skills in a world where self-absorption is so common. But we deploy those skills in the context of conversations. A conversation involves two or more people who participate in the conversation. Here’s an online definition of a conversation: “a talk, especially an informal one, between two or more people, in which news and ideas are exchanged.” News and ideas cannot be exchanged if one of the people never talks.

Some of us struggle to stop talking long enough to let others pursue their thoughts out loud. Some of us find it difficult to express vulnerability in a conversation. Some of us give too much information when we describe something that happened to us. Others provide too little information for our friends to understand how the situation impacted us. Some of us are so engaged with the other person’s emotions that we find it hard to know how to say anything about our own lives. Others of us are so aware of our own emotions that we find it challenging to observe the cues that would tell us how the other person is feeling. And any person might experience some or all of these things at different times.

Significant wisdom and discernment are required to accurately observe the pattern of our conversations. “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you” (James 1:5). I want to invite you to pray for wisdom about the way you speak and listen in conversations. What do you observe in your conversations that you want to work on? What changes in your conversational patterns might help you connect with others more effectively? Show love more clearly? In what ways is God calling you to grow in your conversations with friends, family members, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances? Is there something small you might experiment with? A new way you might ask for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and help in the habits and behaviors of your conversations?

Jesus, you talked with people in so many creative ways. You asked challenging questions. You listened. You said the right thing at the right time. Help us learn from you about how to converse in ways that show love. Help us learn how to listen and speak in ways that build and nurture relationships.

(Next week: Praying about longing. Illustration by Dave Baab: Greenlake, Seattle. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

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