It’s been 22 years since my wife and I and our kids flew across the ocean to serve overseas. It’s been 12 years since we returned. Both moves had a profound impact on our lives, and both have taken quite a lot of processing. (Does the processing ever end?)
The debriefing that we participated in after our return, through Mission Training International, was instrumental in helping us relocate physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The couple who led our sessions, Steve and Gwen Smith, were the right people at the right time for us, and we dearly value the conversations we had with them. They listened to us, and they believed us.
Steve is the author of several books, including Soul Custody: Choosing to Care for the One and Only You and The Jesus Life: Eight Ways to Recover Authentic Christianity, and he and Gwen also blog at refresh renew restore. Not long after we came back to the States, in a post titled “The Power of a Spiritual Conversation,” Steve wrote,
[I]n the course of life’s seasons, we need to have spiritual conversations with people who are good listeners. Let me be clear here, most people are not good listeners. They listen for facts not feelings. They listen for what they hope to hear. They listen when it may not cost them something.
A spiritual conversation is a reciprocal dialogue between two people where thoughts, opinions and feelings are shared and received. It’s two-way. Not one way.
People who have gone through major transitions—and others who have encountered loss—need good listeners. Cross-cultural workers need good listeners. Cross-cultural workers need to be good listeners. But what is necessary to be someone who listens well, to be someone who nurtures spiritual conversations? How about compassion and empathy and comfort?
Following is a list of words that I associate with good listeners. We all know what the words mean, but we’ve become fairly complacent in using them. Therefore, as a way to jumpstart our thinking and to help us do a better job of living them out, I’m pairing them with the literal meanings from their origins (with the help of the Online Etymology Dictionary and other resources). My intent is not to “correct” their modern definitions but simply to give depth to what we already know.
For instance, today a companion is a friend or partner. But the word companion is formed from two parts that originally meant “with” and “bread.” So a companion was someone who shared a meal with another. Even now we understand the link between sharing food and sharing our hearts. Here’s what Steve says about companionship:
I wrote in The Jesus Life that spiritual conversations take place at the table where we eat our meals. . . . It’s never an intent when you ask someone for lunch–to share protein, carbs and water with someone. No, when you ask someone for lunch, you’re really meaning, “Hey, let’s get together so we can share what’s been going on in our lives. It’s been too long. How about next Tuesday at noon at the deli?” That’s the stuff of conversations where hearts connect and souls meet and people who are lonely become spiritual companions.
Now, here’s the rest of my list:
acknowledge: “to admit understanding or knowing”
from a blending of Old English on, “into,” and cnawan, “recognize,” with Middle English knowlechen “admit”
affirm: “to strengthen”
from Latin ad, “to,” plus firmare, “make firm”
advocate: “someone called to help or plead”
Latin ad plus vocare, for “to” and “to call”
comfort: “to strengthen much”
Late Latin com, “very,” and fortis, “strong”
commiserate: “to lament with”
from Latin com, “with,” and miserari, “to feel pity”
communicate: “to make common”
from Latin commun, “common,” plus the verb suffix icare
companion: “eating partner”
Latin com, “with,” and panis, “bread, food”
compassion: “a suffering with”
Latin com and pati, meaning “with” and “to suffer”
concern: “a sifting” or “comprehension”
from Latin com, “with,” and cernere, “to sift”
confide: “to trust strongly”
Latin com plus fidere, meaning “very” and “to trust”
console: “to give much comfort or solace”
from Latin com, “very,” and solari, “to comfort”
contact: “to touch with”
from Latin com, “together,” and tangere, “to touch”
conversation: “a turning with”
Latin com, meaning “with,” and vertare, meaning “turn about”
empathy: “a feeling in”
Greek en and pathos, meaning “in” and “feeling”
encourage: “to add heart or bravery”
Old French en, “make, put in,” and corage, “heart, innermost feelings”
sympathy: “a feeling together”
Greek syn, “together,” plus pathos, “feeling”
understand: “to stand in the midst of”
Old English under, “between, among,” plus stand
May we better understand these ideas and, in so doing, better understand each other. May we put them into practice. May we have better conversations. May we all become better companions . . . and better listeners. And may you find the right people to listen to you.
A version of this post was originally published at ClearingCustoms.net.
(Steve Smith, “The Power of a Spiritual Conversation,” refresh renew restore, September 26, 2012)
[Photo by Ruth]