That Community Moment when your neighbour asks you to pick up a Sunday paper

It's been a beautiful sunny winter day so far. (Aside for the grammar aficionados: according to this site, the names of seasons are only written with a capital letter when the season has been in some way personified, as in I was captivated by Winter's stark beauty / Summer's shimmering heat / Spring's unfolding beauty (dang it, already used “beauty”; never mind) / Autumn's something-or-other-something: you get the idea. Sorry, rather a long aside so soon in the story.) That being so, and being still in holiday mode, and, what's more, being in need of a replenished stock of old newspapers for various purposes domestic, I decided, unusually, to stroll down to the village shop for a Sunday paper. (For anyone confused by the “old newspaper” allusion, I should explain that the said domestic purposes range from shoe polishing (not that I polish shoes with newspaper; rather, the newspaper acts as a base on which to conduct the polishing and to collect the inevitable bits of polish, mud and other detritus) to mopping up water that accidentally leaks through the back door when not properly closed. It is a fundamental necessity of domestic life that one must have a stock of old newspapers to call on. One cannot, by definition, have old newspapers if one never acquires, at some point, new newspapers. And since we do not, as a matter of course, read a newspaper then our stock, last supplemented in about 2011, inexorably shrank until the point of disappearance. Sorry. Another long aside.)

Let me add that I genuinely wished to read the paper; the domestic stock replenishment would be merely a happy side-effect.

Anyhoooo, as I walked the few hundred yards to the shop, be-hatted, be-scarved and be-gloved (grammar aficionados make of those constructs what you will), I passed our friend's house. Theirs being an old property that sits right on the pavement, I easily spotted my friend in the kitchen and she waved. They are the neighbours we know best and have quite a close friendship with. Days before, she had called round and left us a fabulous Christmas gift (pictured), so I seized the opportunity to trot across the road to thank her for the gift.

Our Christmas gift

I explained the mission I was on and she asked me if I could do her a favour and buy her a copy of The Sunday Times, should one be available. As it turned out, there were none (I too had intended to buy a copy of TST but settled for The Independent on Sunday), so I duly returned her cash.

As I made my way home in the sunshine, I was struck in some admittedly vague, fuzzy way by the uplifting combination of the weather, the wave across the road, the request to buy the paper, the friendship we have with our neighbours, and the fact that she bought us the picture (which is full of Bible truths) although not (yet) believing herself.

So what's my point? Nothing profound – just a tiny occasion, a confluence of circumstances that I wanted to remember and thank God for. And to ask Him to bring about more of these Community Moments at home, at work and in church.

 

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The Power of Listening – and the challenge of remembering to do it

Listening

Now listen – no, really – just listen up for a minute. It’s common knowledge that most of us aren’t very good listeners. (By the way, “it’s common knowledge” is a cunning writer’s ploy that means “surely you don’t expect me to back this statement up?”.) Well anyway, I think that, in general, most of the time, in most instances, by and large (oh dear, drifting into Sir Humphrey Appleby mode) – most of us ain’t very good listeners. What’s more, we think we are – and are thereby deluded.

In reality we commonly respond to what someone else is saying by offering advice, changing the subject (probably to our own story) or, most commonly of all, simply by interrupting. It’s true. It really…no, let me finish…it really is true. I do it. You do it. we all do it. You know we do.

Consequently we frequently fail to understand what’s being said to us – or why. And thereby hangs many a sorry tale of frustration, conflict and sub-fruitful conversation. But all is not lost.

We can learn a better way. I learnt by doing a course. You could probably learn on many different courses, I suppose. But the one I did is called The Marriage Course. Because it focuses on marriage, unsurprisingly. Not, it has to be said, that the need for listening is limited to married people. Just that it’s a key skill for that particular relationship. Anyhoo, this course, or this particular bit of it, teaches you to realise what a naff listener you are most of the time and then shows you how it’s possible to listen – really listen – and reflect back what you heard and ask the right questions without jumping in with size 12’s and just champing at the bit to say your next line. It makes you try it out. And trying it out makes you see how badly you do it most of the time.

It also makes you resolve to do it properly in future. Until the next time a tricky conversation arises, at which point you (OK, I) forget everything you (yes, yes, alright – I) learned and jump right back in with those size 12’s again and remember waaay too late that you should have been listening and not jumping to conclusions; that you should have been reflecting back and not offering solutions or slowly losing your cool. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

This sorry state of affairs is akin to buying a hammer and then trying to knock nails in with your fist: it’s ineffective, painful and completely unnecessary. The key to this self-inflicted misery is simply this: use the tool you acquired earlier. Just, as they say, do it. Much better. And admittedly easier said than done. But done it must be.

So I commend to you the power of listening. I commend to you learning how to do it better. But most of all I commend to you doing better than me at remembering to listen in real life.

And please – don’t try knocking nails in with your fist.

The Power of Encouragement – Do it today

Recently someone referred to me as a “talented musician”. While I’m under no illusions as to the level of said talent, I’m also in no doubt that she meant it and that I do, indeed, have a measure of guitary talent that others don’t.

What she doesn’t know is that in years gone by someone else referred to me as “not a real musician”. That was powerful, to the extent that I had to work through giving it to God, practicing the art of forgiveness and all that good stuff. But despite doing all the good stuff there’s no doubt the words influenced me. I’m not one to practice for hours, I can’t pick, I can’t transpose in my head (unless there’s a maximum of three chords 🙂 and I can’t give you screaming solos. I know all that. I also know I’m a decent rhythm guitarist – but those words back then put a kind of glass ceiling above me and created the proverbial inferiority complex.

 

So to hear myself described as a musician – let alone a talented one – is surprisingly significant. And quite helpful a couple of weeks before featuring in the backing band at a gig.

 

The point is – you, like her, have no idea how your words might help, enthuse, empower or spur somebody on. So give it a try today. If you pray, ask God to show you who, and how, to encourage. Encouragement’s one of those gifts of the Holy Spirit so don’t dismiss it.

 

Just do it.