Last weekend at our Retreat/Advance, we opened the day by going around the room, saying our names & the sites where we serve, and sharing a bit about how our listening practice is going. It isn’t uncommon to notice a theme arise in our sharing. To my ears, a theme amongst our stories was the value of being a stranger who listens. Compared to the kind of listening (or lack there of) that is more common in a family situation, sometimes being with a stranger… helps.

That said, we all were touched by the volunteers that shared about listening within their families. Tears were shed around our circle of listeners – a story of listening and being present in grief-stricken times, another story of the tender desire to listen to family members who need a listener. We have noticed, though, over our 11 years of service and counting, that although our hearts are full of compassion, it is often easier be a stranger listening to others than to listen within our own families.

There are reasons for this and one of them may be the reciprocity embedded within family relations that can unconsciously be experienced as a demand for attention. This level of reciprocal relating isn’t there between strangers. Listening to family and strangers brings up a ‘good and honest’ question: How can we be better listeners around the people we are familiar with and who are familiar with us?

‘Letting go of outcome’ is something I’ve written about more than once in these letters. It gets a lot of airtime because it takes a lot of practice and remembering. But there is another aspect of deep listening that comes into play today: The art of the good, honest, question.

A good question is open-ended and invites our guest to go deeper into their story. An honest question is one to which we don’t already know the answer. So, how can we be better listeners with our families and friends… is a good and honest question. I do trust that the question in our hearts is good and will continue to take us deeper into our own story/practice of listening. And, for the record, it is as honest a question for me as it is for anyone else.

Pop-up listening even outside of our typical shifts came up for several of us. Kellin described his experience of listening at a scene of a fire where a witness was triggered to share about her own past tragedies. She told Kellin thatt her family no longer want to hear her story – sadly she still needed to share it and Kellin was the perfect stranger to listen in that moment.

Marilyn shared of her experience listening at Mt View and the value of listening there is that you get to “see the community. It is really good and really hard.” This might be the advantage of being a stranger – the ability to be present for what is “really hard,” when it is just slightly removed from our private lives.

Another place where listening is happening is at the NICU. Ed moonlights there holding the babies, offering his loving presence to them. And, through this experience he has been listener to the parents of these little ones. His own personal history opens his compassion for these families. As it turns out, he gets to be their ‘listening stranger.’

Zoe share a beautiful insight and invitation about her work life. Our relationships at work are somewhere in between, right? Not family but not strangers either. “It is important to listen to people you are with every day,” is what she has learned hands on. In her role at work she has noticed that people are anxious over work issues or changes. “Anxiety met with listening calms everyone down.”

There was more compassion and insight shared around that room than I can put into this letter. I will share more as the weeks unfold, but if you weren’t able to be with us, I’m hoping you are picking up on the spirit of our Retreat/Advance.

with all the gratitude I can express and more,