I am honoured to host Diana Trautwein. Listen up as she teaches us to listen well!
Many years ago, one of my dearest friends pinpointed a particular problem of mine: I wasn’t really listening when she talked to me.
Oh, I was physically present, with my body turned towards her, ‘hearing’ her words. But I was not truly listening. She told me that I seldom made eye contact and seemed to be constantly distracted by everything else that was going on around us.
Ouch. Her words stung, as the truth so often does.
After a minute or two of denial, I had to admit that she was right on target. I had this habit of trying to multi-task when someone was talking to me.
I too often chose that time to scan the room, or the patio, or the restaurant — wherever the conversation was happening — to be sure I wasn’t missing something important going on around me.
As if the person in front of me was not important enough.
Or, I would busily scan an invisible list in my head, checking off tasks that needed to be done.
As if life is all about how much we can do, accomplish or perform.
Almost always, I found myself so concerned about my own response to whatever I was hearing, that I had little interior space to simply receive the words of another as the gifts they were.
As if my words, my stories, my experiences were of more intrinsic value than the other person’s.
I was there. But. . . I wasn’t. Physical presence? Yes, assuredly. Emotional presence? Not so much.
For most of my life, I have been a busy person, involved in numerous activities and commitments. From family to church to philanthropic groups to running a small business from my home, to attending seminary, to working in the parish setting — I’ve kept my plate full.
My friend’s words came when I was a seminary student, still managing a floral business, and also serving as a pastoral intern at the church we both attended.
I was over-extended, over-tired and emotionally overdrawn. The well was dry.
Listening, really listening, to anyone became increasingly difficult for me to do. Something had to give, priorities needed to be realigned, and I desperately needed to learn what it meant to pay attention to the lives and stories of other people, most especially people near and dear to me.
At about the same time, I began to learn more about the spiritual disciplines and practices of the Christian church, both ancient and contemporary. And it was here that I began to find my way to the center, the center of myself and the center of my faith.
It was here that I began to learn how to listen.
Every single book I read, prayer retreat I attended, or class I took pointed me in the same direction: learning to still myself from the inside out. Let me hasten to add that I still do not do this perfectly — far from it. But I am on the road, learning as I go.
Along the way, I have learned to talk less and to listen more. The practices of centering prayer, lectio divina, breath prayers, the Jesus Prayer, the exercises of St. Ignatius — each of these and all of these help to point me in the direction of stillness, silence and attentiveness.
Over the course of the last twenty years, I have discovered deep reservoirs of grace and compassion that are available to me if I will take the time to dip my toes into the waters of my own baptism. And then those same gospel gifts are passed along through me as I take what I’m learning into conversations, email correspondence and spiritual direction sessions.
Listening became an important part of my own spiritual journey, so much so that I began to prayerfully discern God’s call for me to enter spiritual direction and then to offer it. Last year, I completed three years of study and practice, and now meet monthly with several people. Together, we sit in the presence of the Holy Spirit and listen to how God has been at work in their lives since last we met.
And, by the grace of God, I no longer scan the room, peruse an invisible list of tasks, or assemble a clever response to whatever I’m being told.
Instead, I listen, with my ears, with my eyes and with my heart.
Married to her college sweetheart for over 45 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes twice weekly on her own blog, JustWondering, monthly at A Deeper Family, occasionally for Prodigal Magazine, and soon, occasionally for She Loves Magazine. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?