Learning to Listen
Earlier this week, I was involved in a meeting where we were “checking in” with each other, which is one of the most important ways we can support each other. Unfortunately, I forgot to keep the “checking in” confined to simply allowing the person checking in to share, and then asking for prayer, if they wished. What happened (as it sometimes can in those cases) was that it became a conversation that had elements of “fixing” and “justifying”, and eventually included one person becoming offended and storming out.
One of the greatest things about being involved in the 12-Step recovery community has been the ability to be able to get what is going on with me off my chest in an atmosphere of safety and confidentiality. Of course, in that venue it is supposed to be my “experience, strength, and hope” as it relates to my disease. That is one of the reasons I find my association with groups of other ministers so helpful and fulfilling, because there, pretty much anything that is going on is fair game.
Whether it is at Unity, a 12-Step group, or in some other forum you experience (and quite frankly, often one on one with friends and family), when we open ourselves up to each other, we need to have a clear agreement on the expectations of everyone involved, and if it is a “check in” sort of atmosphere, we need to simply allow ourselves to be that “caring, non-anxious presence” for the other person in the conversation. Sometimes, this is difficult. We may be triggered by something the other person says, particularly if they are a spouse, partner, or close family member. We may begin to feel that “They’re talking about me”, and take what they are saying personally (a violation of the 4 Agreements!) And that is absolutely not why we are there.
It is vitally important that we allow the people in our lives to have a safe space to speak their truth. It is just as vital that we become willing to make ourselves vulnerable enough to speak our own truth. Without this safe space, resentments fester and fears multiply. With this safe space, we have a “safety valve” that allows us to release the pressure of carrying the weight of our difficulties alone. I know in Unity, we sometimes want to take a “spiritual bypass”, and pretend that challenges don’t exist. But my time in 12-Step has taught me that a challenge shared is like a burden halved, and often, in simply talking it out, we come to a resolution without anyone else needing to speak a word.
So, if someone needs to “check in” with you, I invite you to take these pointers to heart:
Don’t try to fix them
Don’t try to point out why they are wrong for feeling the way they feel
Don’t take anything personally
Ask if they want prayer
Ask (if it is honestly in your heart to do so) how you can help
And finally, even if some of your “check ins” have ended up going down the wrong rabbit hole, don’t give up. Stay open. Be vulnerable. Speak truly; listen lovingly.
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”