There are three primary practices that give shape to walking well with others as a friend or a mentor: listening, question-asking, and prayer. Over the next couple blog entries, I will briefly unpack each of these practices. My reflections here are adapted from our VP3 resource entitled, Walking Alongside Others: A Mentoring Guide. I highly recommend it.
Practice #1: Listening
Trust and intimacy are developed through an environment of listening well. A central feature of our culture is that we are being relentlessly talked at, rarely listened to. Consequently, we ache and hunger to be heard. Among the men and women with whom we work hard, break bread, and share life, do we recognize one another’s thirst to be heard and known and loved personally?
Mentoring is a ministry of listening. We come alongside another and we make space to listen to and listen with, seeking together to discover what God might be saying or where God might be leading.
Listening is fundamentally about being present and attentive to another. It is a powerful experience to be listened to well. When we recall the experience of a friend’s listening presence, we recognize the deep gift it was to us. We also can recall when we have not been heard or listened to well. This can be very painful, shutting our spirit down and leaving us feeling more discouraged and unable to move forward.
It is the responsibility of the mentor or friend to set a conversational pace patient enough for true listening, yet progressing forward enough for the conversation to not lose momentum and focus. Some mentors know the danger of moving too quickly and so learn to “circle back” to previous questions that deepen conversation. They also learn to be comfortable with silence, accepting it as active moments of waiting on the Lord, pregnant with possibilities for honesty and discovery.
Listening well is very challenging. Even the best listeners often feel like beginners, eager to offer a better presence and attentiveness. Our mind can wander in so many directions away from the person who sits before us. Perhaps we are too absorbed in our own context to listen long and well to another. Perhaps we grow anxious and distracted by the reality that we might not be able to adequately help. Perhaps we think we already know the answer. Our need to be helpful can often blur and distract us from the task of simply being present and attentive. There are many factors that make listening well a challenge, yet it remains one of the most healing things we can do as companions on the journey.
Questions for reflection and prayer:
- How are you doing as an active listener?
- How’s your pace of questions and silence?
- What would you like to do differently by way of listening well?