Talking things through is different than thinking things through.
Talking is its own form of reflection. Talking means slowing down, choosing words more carefully, and constructing a logical flow to the explanation. To say something to another person carries a level of commitment, so when we hear ourselves speak something, we may find that we don’t fully agree with it.
In my recent conversation, my colleague would, at times, say something and then immediately question herself. My role was simply to stay out of the way, ask an occasional encouraging question, and, as Parker Palmer would say, “hear her into speech.”
This type of listening offers what Henri Nouwen calls “spiritual hospitality.” If we try to solve a person’s problems or fix their situation, our attempts will fall on deaf ears. Instead, we let the person find their way and come up with a course of action that makes sense to them.
I didn’t understand all the nuances and subtleties of my colleague’s situation – I didn’t need to. She was given space to explore those nuances and subtleties herself and discover the path that was right for her at this particular time. And, since it was her idea and her path, she committed to it and took action.
I’ve also been on the receiving end of hospitable listening, so I know it to be a treasured gift. In this season of giving, may you take the opportunity to offer this gift to someone needing your support.
Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you. Henri Nouwen
Here is Henri Nouwen’s explanation of Listening as Spiritual Hospitality (read now)