- Brad Nelson
“When is the last time you had a great conversation? A conversation in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew. In which you found yourself receiving words from somebody, words that absolutely found places within you that you thought you had lost? A conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks afterwards?”
I heard these words a few weeks ago while listening to an interview with the late John O’Donohue, and they struck a chord in me. I live for these kinds of conversations: these holy moments when we accidentally stumble into the depths of another soul and in the process find our own soul too. In fact, one of the things I most love about being married is what I call the kitchen floor conversations. They’re usually sparked by an insight or a question that is too good to move past. Or they emerge from a moment of recognition at the end of a long day when the kids are finally in bed and the house is put back together and we bump into each other in the kitchen and suddenly remember, “Oh, that’s right. We’re married. We live together in the same house. How’ve you been?” Before long we’re sitting on the kitchen floor asking questions and entering into wonder.
Great conversations have a sacramental nature. They are life-giving conduits of grace. They gift us with words that name realities we knew existed but lacked the language for. And like John O’Donohue, I would suggest that if you haven’t had this kind of conversation in a while, you might want to think about where you would find one.
The great conversations in my recent memory have all been accidental. I don’t believe that you can plan great conversation, but there are certainly ways of engaging that make stumbling into one more likely. One way is to ask what Parker Palmer calls authentic questions. An authentic question is a question without an agenda, a question that does not imply a right or wrong answer. Authentic questions lead people into their own hearts and give them permission to go exploring once there. Not necessarily to find an answer, though that may happen, but more to find and hear from themselves.
Another element of great conversation is the willingness to engage questions that invite you to go exploring. Some of the best questions I’ve been asked in the last year are:
What have you been learning about yourself lately?
What makes you come alive?
What in the last year has been really great? Why?
What in the last year has been really hard? Why?
Find one good question and ask it of someone, and be willing to be asked it yourself.
Brad is currently the pastor of formation at Church of Hope in Ocala, Florida and served on the pastoral staff at Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, Michigan for 8 years. A speaker, writer, and student at Western Theological Seminary (MDiv), he and his wife Trisha are the proud parents of two beautiful daughters, Braylen and Clara.
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Contact Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org.