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Sabbatical year

Learning to listen and more notes on calling…

We had lunch and a great conversation with neighbors last weekend. That conversation included a lengthy discussion about faith.

The woman is an atheist, but she pursued the discussion. At one point, she said, “What I don’t like about a lot of religious people is that they don’t listen. They just want to tell you what they think and what you should believe.” [That’s my best translation — she said it in Spanish. She may have actually said she’d like more soup.]

Right there, for the first time, I thanked God for my bad Spanish. To understand the majority of what someone is saying, I have to devote my entire mental energy to listening. Divert any of that attention––e.g. to what I want to say next––and I’ll be lost in the conversation.

I wondered, if our conversation had been in English, if I would have come across as another one of those “religious people” who’s uninterested in listening. I know my more typical manner is to give half my attention to what someone is saying and half my attention to how I want to respond. I (wrongly) suppose that I’ll be able to understand what they’re saying if I give them a good half of my attention.

For what it’s worth, I usually understand more with half my attention in an English conversation than when I give my undivided attention in Spanish. But understanding isn’t the only point. The act of listening, itself, makes a big difference.

These shouldn’t be astonishing revelations. I’ve always known that active, fully-engaged listening is important. Be quick to listen, slow to speak… But the Spanish language has made this a necessity for me rather than simply a good idea. That somewhat forced practice has exhibited the way that fully listening to people blesses them. I’m sure many people have learned this more easily and without having to do it in a foreign language.

Our neighbor showed me how many of us––perhaps especially “religious people”––still need to learn to listen rather than just spout off our own beliefs. We have strong and deep-seated beliefs, and we want to share them with people. (I shared more on that in this post.) But we also recognize that none of those people are blank slates, just waiting for us to thrust our beliefs onto them. They have deep histories that have shaped their own deep beliefs and convictions and ways of life, and we want to know more about those. We can only hear those when we’re quick to listen.

Do we speak? Of course! It’s not listen, don’t speak. It’s be quick to listen, slow to speak. I hope that being forced to practice that in Spanish will help me choose to practice it better in English.

More On Calling

In our last post, I suggested more than I intended when I wrote about calling. I’ve received a steady stream of e-mail counsel and questions ever since. Those e-mails have been full of wisdom and encouraging words, so I’m a bit glad that I said what I did, even if it wasn’t what I intended.

I mentioned not having the same assurance of calling that I’ve heard from other pastors. I was thinking about something I’ve heard from several pastors––that if they’re doing anything in their careers other than pastoral ministry, they know they’re doing the wrong thing. I’ve never had that certainty––that career pastoral ministry is the only thing I can do and be faithful to God. I’m okay with that. Calling transcends career. But it makes transitional times like this more ambiguous.

We’re all called. Every one of us. Read through the New Testament, and you’ll see that almost every instance of “calling” is about all of us being called to be the people of God, using our unique, God-given gifts in his service. This will influence our careers, but it may not specify them. A friend reminded me that the Bible reports only a few “particular and extraordinary” callings, and these tend to be for prophets and apostles, not priests and pastors.

Instead, priests and pastors are usually recognized and appointed by the church. They don’t choose themselves, and they’re rarely surprised by a vision from God. The church (hopefully by God’s guiding) appoints them. My path in the UMC has kept me aware of this. I’m not ordained, so my constant submission to the Church isn’t where they’ll appoint me to serve, but whether they’ll appoint me to serve. (I wrote more extensively about that in “Why part-time local pastor?“) A perceptive friend wrote, “Where you might fit best is something you don’t always get to decide.”

Twice this past month, in situations that were poles apart, I’ve said, “I love this!” ––

The first was while we set up chairs for our first worship service this year. I remembered our earliest days setting up chairs in the church basement for Offerings worship––praying, hoping, expecting who might fill those seats and be part of something new. I love preparing for worship, anticipating what God might do.

The second was leading a part of our church’s leaders’ meeting a few weeks ago. Never do I feel more in my element than when I’m working with a group of leaders to pray and plan––asking how we can use their gifts, feed God’s sheep, and reach out to new people.

I expect I’ll always be doing those things in some capacity, whether they’re connected to my career or not. This much I know: God calls us all to himself and to his service. That’s not up for question. The only question is how each of us does that best. If we’re sincere about asking that question, it will involve a lot of listening and a lot of patience, and we may not get to decide the outcome.

Quick to listen, slow to speak… 

One reply on “Learning to listen and more notes on calling…”

Hellow,

Hello,
This is Carla Kimmons from First UMC downtown. I’m serving as the Faith Community Nurse. Our Health Ministry team is leading the virtual Walk to Jerusalem activity for the congregation. Our journey is planned for a stop in Spain to “visit” with you! I’m planning to share your latest post at our board in the Gathering place, and wondered if you would like to send a picture/greeting to everyone? If so, please send it to my email- cmcard@hotmail.com and we’ll get it enlarged and printed for all to see!! Love, prayers, and thoughts are with you as you continue this spiritual journey! God is doing a great work in, and through, you.

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