“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” (James 1:19)
“Can we talk?”
The late comedienne Joan Rivers became famous for this tag line. In her brash New York accent, it usually preceded such a nonstop barrage of rude one-liners I wondered how she ever caught her breath.
Can we talk?
Of course we can. And we do, frequently and often at great length. Talking is what women do, and we’re darn good at it. Go to any restaurant at lunchtime and observe a table of two or more ladies. The chatting goes on long after the food is gone. But let’s imagine we could turn down the volume and just watch the interaction for a bit.
One woman is speaking for two or three minutes. The one next to her then makes a fifteen-second reply, and the first one takes off again for a good two minutes, gesturing to emphasize her point. The woman sitting across from them nods, and opens her mouth, but the second one begins to talk, and first one breaks in here and there. Meanwhile the quiet one lets her eyes meander to the couple sitting across the way, and quickly glances at her phone under the table.
We all know what’s going on. Two people are dominating the conversation; one is discreetly disengaging because there is no opportunity to get a word in edgewise. It’s easy to recognize these dynamics because we’ve seen it happen. Don’t misunderstand. I am not accusing the chatty ones of being insensitive any more than the introvert of giving up.
But here’s the thing. Prayer group is not lunch with the girls. Prayer puts a higher priority on listening.
Proverbs 1:5 says, “A wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance.” I’ve heard pastors observe that the reason we are created with one mouth and two ears is God wants us to listen twice as much as we speak. All in all, this seems like a good rule of thumb. But it’s not easy to do.
One problem is, we love the story. We want all the details. My husband might simply say, “Jerry and Kathy can’t go out to dinner with us tonight after all.” Immediately I want to know, “Did they have a fight? What’s going on, is she sick again?” And I might launch into my concerns for their marriage, and remind my husband how they got married right out of high school, and they never had time to grow up, and how…and when…and why….
So in prayer time, we can get hung up on all the back story, and our own idea of what’s going on or how we should be praying. And then we don’t have any real time to pray. We can only “lift it up” and move onto the next. We’re so busy talking and explaining, we are not listening to what God may have to say, or how he might lead us to pray.
And that’s the other thing about listening. Specifically, listening to God. Two ears, one mouth. In order to have a conversation–a real one–with someone else, we have to stop talking and let the other one speak. And if it’s hard with one another, it’s downright awkward in prayer group because it means allowing for spaces of silence sometimes. Unless you are Moses at the tabernacle, chances are God will not be saying things to you in an audible voice. (Though, how cool would that be? And maybe terrifying, in a good way.) And when it’s quiet, we all squirm for someone, anyone, to break the silence.
But conversation is give and take. Prayer is, too. With practice and discipline, we can pray more effectively, and allow the Lord to speak his presence into our lives. He really desires to be an active part of our prayer group–not just the distant omnipotent One who is given our list of petitions.
Can’t you almost hear him say, “Can we talk?”
What is the most difficult aspect of listening to others? Of listening to God?
Commit to being good stewards of the time. If the group is large, limit sharing prior to prayer; use a timer if necessary.
Begin in prayer. Then, conversation can come after. It’s better to cut the explanations short, rather than the prayer time.
Practice having silent times. If we are intentional about it, silence can become more natural and less awkward. You might be surprised how God will use it.
Practice grace. Occasionally, a woman needs to talk something out. That’s ok, as long as it isn’t happening every time.
Learn more about the Imperfectly Brave prayer group here