“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Ephesians 5:19
There are times when I walk through the halls of church and I get very frustrated. I pass through one conversation after another that goes something like this: “How are you doing?” “Fine, fine. You?” “Good.” “Staying busy?” “You know how it goes, especially with kids.” “I know that’s right.” “Well, have a good day!” “You too. See you later.”
For the record, there is nothing wrong with that exchange. We all know that in the South, “How are you?” is a greeting, not an actual question. It is not an expression of superficiality. It is just a pleasant, culturally appropriate and wonderful way to say hello to someone. The small talk that follows such a greeting is also part of the ritual. It is a way for two
people to say extended hellos to each other and acknowledge that they have a friendly relationship. If you’ve spent anytime at all crossing cultures, you know that how people greet each other is a very important part of relationships. It is the southern equivalent of shaking hands, giving a peck on the cheek, trading goats or drinking tea together, depending on where you are. It’s just how we say “Hey” to one another and warm up for the true communication to follow.
But. If over an extended period of time that is the extent and depth of the conversations that take place…It is like perpetually knocking on the front door and never getting invited inside to sit and stay a while. I’ve talked with many people about this very thing and found that others share my frustration and concern.
We were created for depth of relationship with others. If we are a Christ-follower, then even more so. The practice of our faith is a community thing. We are called to share our thoughts, burdens, joys and pains. That doesn’t happen as you pass someone in the hall. It happens over coffee. In a living room. At a kitchen table. While walking together somewhere outdoors. Whatever it is that brings you side by side and face to face with another person for an extended time.
Intentional conversation is a healthy rhythm to practice. Putting times on the calendar with good friends where the object is to ask questions like, “How are you?” and then not rush the answer. Ask follow-up questions. Move slowly through the exchange, following a train of thought thoroughly before switching topics.
A good conversation can be like a good meal. It takes time to gather the ingredients (trust, affection, shared memories), to prepare the food (when and where to meet, giving some thought about what to share and ask) and then to eat slowly, savoring the experience. A stomach feels completely different after a full meal with salad and dessert, than following a trip to McDonald’s.
I would suggest not only calendaring a few significant conversations a month, but also preparing for them. Think ahead of time what you want to ask and what you want to share. A good conversation is like a good tennis match. There should be lots of back and forth.
It can be a challenge to say, “This week I’m going to share my heart with someone and ask them about theirs,” without feeling a bit odd. Sort of needy, sort of nerdy. It feels like normal people don’t do that. But emotionally and spiritually healthy people do. It is so easy to let a month, then two, slip by and realize that you’ve haven’t talked with someone about anything more important than the weather, your kids’ schedules or sports teams.
I’ve not really had God show up in my life during a conversation about the weather. But I’ve repeatedly had Him show up during a conversation where I opened my heart to someone else. Knowing that, a rhythm of healthy conversation makes sense.