As the holidays approach and most will probably be getting together with old friends, meeting new ones, and celebrating with family, I feel God has been reminding me that what we say and what we do not say matters! It contributes to the first impression and the last impression that others have of us. If we are known as Christians, our words will even impact the view others have of God and of His people. Jesus told us to, "Love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12) and often caring about others begins with a conversation.
Our conversations reveal our heart for others. In Luke 6:45 Jesus tells us, "The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart." The words we speak (or don't) express either interest or disinterest towards another. The questions we ask reveal our level of caring. The questions we do not ask give an appearance of indifference.
We have probably all experienced rather cold, distant, or one-sided conversations. Some folks love to talk about themselves. Some are "too shy" to say much. Some spend an entire conversation grumbling. Some never stop for a breath, much less to ask a question and wait for an answer.
Hopefully we have also experienced conversations with those who are genuinely interested in us, our life, our thoughts, and our input. These people ask thoughtful questions and offer follow up comments. They do an equal amount of talking and listening. They care about what is going on in our life and are willing to share the reality of theirs.
In our family, we had one child who never met a stranger and one who went through a phase of preferring not to speak to others he didn’t know well. Weekly on the way to church we would go through something like this: “When someone speaks to you, look at them and answer them back”; “Say hello to two people and ask how they are doing,”…Yet the reason behind this training involved more than "good manners".
As Christ - followers, each of us is called to love our neighbor as ourself. Everyone has an inborn temperament and some are naturally more verbal and outgoing than others. In training my two children with varying personalities I wanted them to understand that when we reach out to others with kind words and interest in them, we am sharing the love of Christ. When we do not put forth the effort to engage with others, we send an unspoken message that, "you are not important". Even in a seemingly meaningless conversation, we can share God's love through simply caring. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul tells us, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
In talking with others, what matters is not your personality type or whether you feel like conversing… Making others feel important and valued is what we are called to as disciples of Christ. My life and conversations are not to be all about me, but about “the interests of others.” What do they enjoy? What are they interested in? What do they think and why? What is hard or challenging for them? What are they excited about?
Learning about the life of another is important if you want to show them the love of Christ. You will better know what might bless them, how to pray for them, and how to show them you care. What a privilege to be able to share God’s love in simple conversations with family, friends, and strangers. Undivided attention and eye contact can be a rare gift these days.
With that said, the art of conversation is easy to practice and it is a learned skill. With Erin and Ryan, I used the example of playing tennis. Picture a conversation like a tennis game if you will. One person starts the game with a serve (i.e. a question asked of another) across the net (or cup of coffee). It is now time for the incoming ball to be hit (i.e. question answered) and returned (i.e. another question asked). So continues the conversation, like a game of tennis with each person asking, responding, and returning another question. It is no fun at all to play tennis when you hit the ball across the net and it is not hit and returned. If the ball is consistently dropped on one side of the net, the game gets old in a hurry!
This analogy also applies to conversation. When one person is the only one to ask questions and the other merely answers briefly and does not respond with an inquiry of their own, the conversation lags, sags, and feels tiring, especially if you are the one serving up questions without returns!
Yet the back and forth of conversation can be fantastic; after all, God made us to be in relationships – with Him and with others. Practicing conversation skills is really easy and fun. It helps to have some “go-to” questions, if you will, on reserve in your mind. Open- ended questions are better than those only requiring a yes or no answer. Your "go-to" questions might include:
- Tell me about where are you from.
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- Seen any good movies lately? What are some of your favorites?
- Tell me about your family.
- Favorite traditions? . . .
The list of conversation topics is endless and as conversation proceeds the questions may get deeper. The point is to show genuine care and concern for another. If you’d really like to ace the game, give the person you are visiting with a word of encouragement!
The following is a great verse to memorize: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Although I often miss the mark, I love this goal. It is a great reminder to challenge myself in this area.
Yes, there will still be conversations that are slow or difficult, discussions with those who were never taught these skills, or times when someone is going through something special and the talk needs to be one-sided. Yet even in these, may we put forth the effort to bless and give grace to those who hear our words … all for His glory!
“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, Oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).