One of the most humbling and interesting things to come from my training and experience as a life coach was the realization that I was a really bad listener. You’d think that a pastor, especially one trained to be a cross-cultural learner, would be fairly naturally endowed with listening skills. I’m sure I wasn’t the worst listener, but being “ok” relative to the worst is not all that great.
I was blessed yesterday to visit my first AA meeting, an open meeting with Alcoholics Anonymous. So let me give a quick shout to all my AA friends out there, you rock! And I’m grateful to my good brother who brought me along to the meeting. It’s sometimes a scary proposition to take your pastor out in public, ya know? He stepped out and took a risk, and I was blessed for it!
I’m interested in systems, and so I’ve always been a little interested in AA and the almost mythic power of the Twelve Steps. I was impressed at the meeting, and I almost immediately loved every person I saw. Attending a larger group I was able to see a real diversity, young and old, black and white, male and female, rich and poor, and all the in betweens.
If you’ve never been to a meeting, I suggest you find a larger club to visit. The meeting I attended was close to fifty people, but I didn’t get lost in the crowd. Instead I felt very at home and welcome. It was obvious right away that most of the people there knew each other… this was a community.
And the real lesson of the day for me was that this was a community of listening. It’s such a precious gift to be heard. I was frankly amazed at the way the room sat and listened attentively to the different individuals sharing what was on their hearts or minds. Some were eloquent and others down right hilarious. Some rambled a bit and repeated themselves. None were interrupted. None were corrected. All were heard.
All were heard. This is a powerful reminder for me as a pastor. There are some big differences in the way an AA meeting and a typical Sunday morning worship service are conducted, but the need to be heard is common in both these communities. The gift of being heard is a precious gift, a life-changing moment, in each community. I spend a lot of time selecting songs, studying passages, adapting prayers and building prayer stations… honestly, I spend a lot of time talking. My neighbors at AA yesterday reminded me of my need to invest in time spent listening.
Churches and other faith communities spend a lot of time and energy talking and teaching, but how do we listen? Where do we listen? When do we listen? I’m looking into this in a deeper way this week, and I’m grateful for the good folks I met yesterday who reminded me of such an important truth.
There’s an old saying, “God gave us only one mouth but two ears, so listen!” James (of biblical fame) quips in one of my favorite verses that we should, “…be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Who will I hear, today? Who will you gift with a big basket of listening?