Rose Zacharias Meeder, one of our Groups Coaches, shares her tips based on many great personal conversations with friends, neighbours, coworkers and group members. Rose and her husband Rob have lead groups for many years at Connexus. Groups provide people with community, support, friendship and spiritual growth. If you have questions about joining a group for the first time head to connexuschurch.com/choosecommunity or email [email protected].
I was listening to CBC radio today (big fan!) and was so drawn to a story they were doing on happiness. The program featured a study from Harvard University on the pursuit of happiness. After 80 years of following a group of students throughout their lifetimes, they had determined what the essential element of happiness was. Can you guess it?
Relationships. Meaningful, life-giving, significant human relationships with friends and family was the key ingredient to experiencing a happy life.
Not fame. Not fortune. Not success.
And, in my opinion, the key ingredient to nurturing healthy, life-enriching, ‘my-life-is-better-for-knowing-you’ relationships, is good conversations. And as a Christian, we give these conversations depth beyond measure when we speak about our experience of Jesus. It really comes down to how we talk to each other. Simple, right? Not really.
The hardest thing you may ever do is have a genuine conversation with someone, and yet THAT is the key ingredient to life happiness. When you add in the faith element, your conversation potentially goes from life-enriching to life-CHANGING.
I am referring to the types of conversations where you lean in and listen, and listen some more, and then open up and share some of your stuff too. The problem is that these types of conversations are the hardest ones to have. They NEVER just HAPPEN. These types of conversations ONLY HAPPEN when you DECIDE they are going to happen. Being intentional is the absolute best way to open up the opportunity to have a great conversation. And when you have THAT TYPE of conversation with someone, it often leads to a relationship. A relationship that makes you happy.
Here’s how to do it in small groups:
- Decide ahead of time that you want to get to know someone better. Maybe you already know where someone works, who their kids are and even what their favourite sports team is, but THAT is only the beginning. Now you are going to decide that you want to know how they FEEL about their work, and their family, and WHY it is that they are such a fan of, say, archery. I remember a time when I asked a colleague about how her three-year-old granddaughter was doing. She said she was doing well and that they had spent a lot of time together that weekend. “Really?” I asked. What had they done? Where did they go? That sort of thing. Our conversation was all pretty “above board” at that point, sort of information gathering. But then I decided I wanted to know a little bit more about her relationship with her granddaughter and asked if she had enjoyed her weekend with her granddaughter. A little risky, maybe she would be offended? But until I knew how she felt about her weekend, I wasn’t really breaking through the surface. Our conversation then led to the reason whyshe had spent so much time with her granddaughter. She went on to tell me that her son’s marriage was having problems, and she had been watching her granddaughter to help them out. Once she told me that, there was a shift in our conversation that opened the door to empathic listening and sincerely inquiring on a whole different level.
- Don’t judge. It just doesn’t matter what someone shares with you about their life, their family, their decisions, their opinions – while you are in conversation with someone and have decided you want to get to know them better, you keep all the judging to yourself. Yes, maybe it is true that you do not understand why someone would spend a certain amount of money on a certain new car, but THAT opinion you keep to yourself. Ask about the car, how they made the decision to purchase that particular car and maybe if they feel they got a good deal on it. And all you do is listen. That’s it, just listen.
- Share something about yourself. Once you have listened, it’s time to get real and speak about your feelings, too. Maybe it’s the simple age-old opportunity to come back with an answer other than “fine,” when someone asks you how you are doing. It goes something like this:
Them: How’s it going?
Them: Really? That’s going on?
There! BAM, now go for it! What’s on your mind? What have you been thinking about today? How do you wish your day that had gone differently?
Now give this a little time and space. Once you have opened up this can of worms, you can’t run away. You have to lean in a little and fill it out with at least a few sentences. There – you have started to build a real conversation – a bridge to an authentic relationship, and when it’s right – and you will know it – share about your God perspective. Because when you are talking about real life issues, the God stuff is always relevant.
So, that’s my advice. Give this all a try and if it gets awkward, it’s working! Don’t give up. It doesn’t work with everyone, and it doesn’t work all the time. But you don’t want or need to build a real relationship with everyone. Just a few. Really, it will make you happy, and the rewards of sharing your faith will absolutely be experienced in this life and beyond.
Like a cool drink of water when you’re worn out and weary is a letter from a long-lost friend. Proverbs 25:25 MSG
…you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.1 Peter 3:15 NLT