Our world values what is slick and sleek, racing past the present to try out whatever is the next great thing. It is at polar opposites from the thoughtful, reverent listening that Pope Francis counsels us to develop in order to connect with our loved ones, our grandparents, and all those men and women who have lived and loved and have so much to share with us.
But how do we go about getting them to share with us?
First, on our part, we need to reflect that taking the time and sharing ourselves with loved ones, making the effort to get them to speak of their lives with us, will open us to a very human joy that God wants for us. It's a joy because in sharing, we create communion. So often we can feel alone, but stories shared can help us appreciate our roots and treasure the life struggles that our loved ones faced and endured to give us a better future.
Sharing stories opens our hearts to the storyteller and they also broaden our understanding and perspective on ourselves and others. It also requires us to reflect on what is meaningful to us, what has lasting value, and those attitudes that will help us be the disciples of Christ here and now in what we are living.
Do I believe this? Do I believe in this blessing that Pope Francis indicates is actually a good for us? Then I must decide it is a good for me personally and endeavor to figure out how I will make time for this.
I do not know why I struggle with reaching out to others to engage them in conversation, perhaps it is just a "gift" to help me feel more empathy for those with the same challenges.
I remember the first time I became keenly aware of my own difficulties with this: Sr. Sira, my 92-year old sister in religion, was slowing down and we knew that, because of her health issues, she could go to God at any moment. She was extremely deaf, so that made communicating even more interesting, but she was a serene person, spending the energy she had praying, making rosaries, and greeting visitors.
In the last weeks of life, she gave me a great gift. Her simple welcome gave me the courage to go to see her daily, telling her of my latest adventure or reading email greetings to her from the sisters in far-away places who wanted her to know they were praying for her. She would show me what she was making or share a story of how she used to bring the Word of God to people in New York, walking door-to-door with a bag full of wonderful religious books. It was her simple acceptance of my sometimes-awkward chitchat that gave me courage to keep visiting her, for I realized that love did not have to be perfectly scripted. Showing up was the first step, and genuine care did the rest. Nothing fancy!
So how will you get started?
1. Stop and think of the person in your family or at work or school with whom you would most like to share a conversation. Next, write down thoughtfully some questions that will help this person unfold his or her story. Don't worry about coming up with questions, there are plenty of places online that can help, simply Google any of these and you are sure to get an interesting list to start you off: great questions, conversation starters, questions for Mom, questions for Dad, questions for elders.
2. Pray that you may have the grace to listen sensitively to whatever the person is able to share with you.
3. Determine when you will meet, either in person or via phone or Skype, then go for it!
Remember: everyone's story matters, and the stories that you listen to and share will help build a living history and bond with family members. Every effort you make to welcome reverently another person by a listening heart is invaluable.
Mary Martha Moss, FSP, received a Master's in Religious Education from Boston College and currently serves as Director of Marketing for Pauline Books & Media.