Vocation is Listening to a Voice

I am preparing for a seminar this week on “Mixed Emotions” focusing on the emotions of leadership, especially in the church. While preparing I remembered this quote from Frederick Buechner that I often read in one of my “Character and Call” classes. It moves me every time I read it.

Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Source: Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner

“How’s Your Day?” and Other Great Questions

“How are you doing?” “What’s going on?” “Can I help you?” “Where are you going?” “How’re you feeling?” Questions are important. They make you think.

Two of my favourite parent-to-child questions are:
“What are you doing?” (this helps the child think about her behaviour); and
“What should you be doing?” (this helps the child think about what ought to be).

The first question requires the child to think and reflect. If asked with affection and gentle touch, the child will probably not defend or deny but ponder and remember. The second question invokes the conscience and requires a value or judgment call. This helps a child decide on what is right and true. Two key questions for growing up well or living well when you are older – one for the mind and one for the conscience.

Here are some questions that I ask my client-friends. If you have been visiting with me, you may be familiar with them.
 What are you doing that is working well?
 What are you doing that is taking you nowhere? (Or, “What are you doing to create your own hell?”)
 What assets do you and your colleagues bring to your shared task? (This is a good question for marriage and family as well. Just change the words a bit.)
 How are you most resourceful when life (or work) is threatening or stressful?
 How do you adapt to pain?
 What are you holding on to that you need to relinquish? (Good question for parents of teenagers or those grieving a loss.)
 What positive changes are you causing (e.g. to your work, your family) by being yourself?
 What are the best things about your relationships within your family or work?
 Describe a circumstance in your marriage, family or work in which you felt loved.

For lots more questions pertaining to marriage and pre-marriage look for Couple Intimacy Questionnaire under “Tools For Change.” And if you hope to grow from where you are to where you want to be, see the paper entitled “Contract for Change.” Great questions.

I Just Want to Be Heard

This is a common complaint in marriage and other partnerships including business and family – “Just listen to me. Don’t try to solve my problems. Just be quiet and listen.”

Seems simple enough until you parse the verb a bit. What does listening mean? Different things to different people so it turns out.

Parents, especially moms, talk about active listening and passive listening with their children. Active listening is when you engage the speaker with your verbal summaries, concluding thoughts, various attempts at empathy, nods and affirmative grunts. Passive listening is when you pay attention but say not much, just vector in, eye-to-eye. I like the latter kind of listening a lot more. But there are other definitions of listening as well.

The other day in my office someone said, “I just want to be heard.” Here is what she seemed to mean:

First, listen deeply and thoroughly to my point of view.

Second, accept my point of view as true or at least more true than yours.

Third, change your thinking and behaviour in accordance with my point of view.

Fourth, advocate for my point of view that you now thoroughly endorse.

Otherwise, I will not feel heard, she seemed to be saying. In fact, she did not feel heard or understood in her family of origin (that is, her growing up family), in her marriage and also felt that her pastor minimized her thoughtfulness. She felt alone, misunderstood and antagonized by various other non-hearers.

Sometimes we can ask to be listened to when what we want is to be agreed with. Different.

The Ways of a Listener

“I can’t speak with you right now. I am in the middle of a sentence.”

“You know, you don’t have to say everything you know.”

I learn great things from my client friends. The first comment came from a couple interchange that was lively, funny, heated, pointed – good conflict, in other words. The second comment was reported by a man who discovered that he didn’t have to win every argument, position himself in every discussion or make a comment on the wary ways of his teenagers.

There are thought to be three basic styles of listening, one better than the other two.

1) The first is “listening to be right.” Competitive listening happens when we are more interested in winning a verbal war or promoting your own point of view, than in understanding somebody else or their thoughts. It is the communication style of the arrogant (“Knowing it all, why would I waste time understanding someone else?”).

2) In “hearing” (“I heard what you said!”) the listener is passive, meandering in and out of the verbal stream, not engaged enough to make a comment, not passionate enough to disagree, and not thoughtful enough to carry the conversation further. Weak and wimpy or, at best, distracted and dismissive, less a communication style than a communication impairment.

3) Participative listening creates a partnership, a team activity with all the cooperation and friction this implies. Engagement is high because you are interested, expressing interest and inviting interest. It is interesting conversation and it goes somewhere and with some panache (a word my Dad used which still sounds wonderfully soul-ish to me).

It might be helpful to know the ways of a listener. I feel myself irritated with me when I listen to prove my rightness; and I feel even more miserable when I sense someone is waiting to find my logical fault. But I love talking when there is an interchange of meaning and (e)motion. It feels to me like being a member of a motorcycle gang (the friendly kind), all of us moving in the same direction, creating lots of lovely Harley noise, and with élan (another word my Dad used to use).

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