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Can we talk?

Conversation. It can be chit-chat or heart-to-heart. It can be lengthy or short. It can be heated. It can be cool. But it is one of those tasks that all of us engage. The exception was President Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) who famously said, “Deeds, not words.” Coolidge was once dared to attend an event and say no more than two words. After several hours at the event, he reportedly left, saying simply, “Good night.”

The challenge with conversation is twofold: listening and speaking. As counselors and life-coaches often will point out, they should happen in that order. Listen first. Then speak.

The deeper task of truly listening means reaching for full understanding of what another person says, where they are coming from or values they hold. This takes time. To listen, I can’t just hear someone’s opening thoughts and then gear up my response or rebuttal. I hate it when someone says, “are you about finished” — they haven’t been listening. Listening means giving someone our full attention, taking in verbal and non-verbal cues, and sensing how they feel about what they are saying. Like our human conversations, our listening to God is vital. It is where our prayer interactions begin, letting God take the lead in our discussion and in our lives. We are invited to share and respond, but the healthy first act is to acknowledge God is God and to absorb what God has for us.

OK, so that means that speaking is the easier part, right? (ahem … ) I hear lots of people excited by the prospect of “giving someone a piece of my mind.” However, the gift of free-speech involves not a simple assertion that we can say whatever we want. It is coupled with the citizen-responsibility to gauge how we say what we say.

The Christian teaching is that breath is a gift of life from God. We can form no sound/words without that breath. We are given this life and breath, and we hold it for a few seconds, but we don’t “own” it. It is a gift. How we employ it should reflect the nature of The One who gave it. It involves more than speaking our mind, but speaking the truth in love — from Ephesians 4:15. If I can’t speak with love, do I dare speak at all?

Try engaging someone in true conversation this week. It will bless you both.

Rev. Michael Kendall is lead pastor of Farmville United Methodist Church. He can be reached at mkendall@farmvilleumc.org.