Listening Well Looks Like Sharing Reflective Listening with a Toddler©
Updated: Feb 6
This evening, our son, Ryan, and daughter-in-law, Meigan, went out on a date. They could do this because Gram Helen and Pa Bart stayed with soon to be three year old, Daniel, and soon to be one year old, Isabella.
I was entrusted with the sacred responsibility of tucking Daniel into bed. At least when I do this, tucking Daniel into bed is a process that takes anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes.
Prior to their date, Ryan and Meigan set the stage. Ryan went into the kitchen and placed about twenty tasty blueberries into a bowl. He walked into Daniel's room and placed the water and blueberries on a table along with the book, "Mama Bear and Baby Bear." It's a book about the journey Mama and Baby Bear took prior to laying down to "take a long nap" and hibernate during the Winter.
After Mama and Dada left, Daniel sat in my lap. After we read the book, I asked Daniel some questions about what we read. When we finished, Daniel ate his blueberries. After he ate several of them, I offered to give him his toothbrush, the one that had a special kind of paste on it; one designed especially for toddlers. I started to give it to him but he said, "No, Pa Bart!" So I said to the toothbrush, "You'll have to wait!"
Then Daniel started crying. "Daniel," I asked, "Why are you crying?" "I miss Mama," he said. I want Mama here." I asked, "Daniel, do you feel sad that Mama is not here?" He shook his head slowly up and down. "Daniel," I said, "Sometimes I feel sad." Then he said, "Where is Mama?" "Mama and Dada are on dates," I said. "As husband and wife, they need time alone together too. You and I are having a date now. It's just you and me."
"Gram's asleep," he said. "Yes," she's sleepy. "Daniel's sleepy too," he said.
Then he cried some more. "I want Mama here now," he said. "Daniel," I said, "Do you wish Mama could be with you all of the time?" He said, "Yes!" "I want her here now!" "Daniel," I said. No one always gets what he or she wants. I don't always get what I want. It's important for Mommy and Daddy to have time together too."
I started singing the French version of "Are You Sleeping?" Daniel said, "No! Pa Bart."
So I sang a variation of the song "Jesu, Jesu." Daniel finished the blueberries while I sang: Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love. Teach us how to love the friends we have with you. Sits at the feet of his friends, gently washing their feet; showing us how to love and be... Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, teach us how to love the friends we have with you.
Then we sang, "Jesus Loves Me." Following that, we grooved to, "Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world: red, brown, yellow, black, and white; we are precious in God's sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world."
"Pa, Bart" Daniel said. "Mama and Dada are on a date?" "Yes." "Pa Bart! Are we on a date?" "Yes! Daniel, we're on a date!" Daniel and I smiled.
After Daniel finished eating all of the blueberries, he took the toothbrush from me and gently brushed his teeth. He nodded, and said. "I'm ready." "Daniel, will you pull me up?" He got up, took both my hands and pulled with all of his strength. He's pretty strong for a three year old. He pulled enough to actually help.
Instead of climbing up the side of his bed to get in the crib like he usually does, Daniel asked, "Will you lift me Pa Bart?" "One, Two, Three!" I lifted him up and gently sat him in this crib. He said, "Two teddy bears" They laid down their heads on the pillow next to his.
Now, it was time to sing, Frere Jacques, Frere Jacques, Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous? Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines; Ding ding dong, ding dong.
I lost count how many times I sang it as I gently moved toward the door and almost fell asleep standing.
Along the journey of becoming Christ-like friends, the Holy Spirit helps us embody love by nurturing habits such as reflective listening and empathy.
Instead of trying to talk Daniel out of his feelings, I acknowledged them. I let him know sometimes I feel sad too. Over the years, I learned the hard way about the puss that accumulates like rust when I deny feelings like sadness, hurt, anger, and disappointment. As tears streamed down his face, we fell deeper in love. We felt one of the limitations that comes in the package we call human. Sometimes human beings are alone. Sometimes we feel sad. We cry many different versions of tears each drop with their own meaning; each drop an offering to God when we prayerfully share them with Jesu. Crying releases pain and joy and messages too deep for words. Releasing tears gives God more space to fill our cups.
Yes, even we who claim to be followers of Jesus feel sadness, and hurt, and disappointed, and anger from time to time. Instead of trying to deny these feelings, what happens when we follow those feelings, lean into them, and learn from them? Will we choose to be present with each other through them? What happens when we seek to name tears? What happens when we name the feelings tears release?
Listening well looks like following well, inviting the "other" who is sharing to set the pace and the rhythm. Even when feelings rise like raging seas, listening invites holy Presence, the kind of Presence that embodies shalom.
Changing gears a slight bit, over time during thirty-seven years of full time local parish ministry in the unique context of seven appointments in a variety of settings, I often wondered, In what ways does the kind of preaching, teaching, and pastoral conversation I do invite people to talk about God? In what ways does the kind of preaching, teaching, and pastoral conversation I embody invite persons with whom I minister and relate to be immersed in the presence of God?
There's a big difference sharing ministry that talks about God as compared to sharing the kind of ministry that invites being in agape with God. In what ways does the kind of ministry that talks about God invite listeners to use God like an object, an object to manipulate? In what ways does the kind of ministry that invites us to be in agape with God invite us to be in agape with others?
Let's take it one step further... Over time, I wondered more and more about the conversations that occurred during administrative meetings. For instance, In The United Methodist Church, church members meet regularly on a church council. From time to time, even in the healthier congregations, someone would have a blow up. Someone would express anger. Usually, after anger was expressed, the person who lost control left the room. We sat together in stunned silence wondering, "Is that Dude or that woman on a high dose of prednisone? We had not yet learned ways to invite the naming and releasing of feelings in the room. We didn't know ways to release the feelings by crying and lamenting with one another. What would have happened if we had taken the time to accept one another, follow one another, be with one another? What may happen if we choose to stop squelching feelings? Would the puss and shame that multiply when we deny feelings nurture healing when we claim the courage to embody what we believe when we put into practice ways of being together that invite us to name the feelings in the room and grow to become more Christ-like through them? We have heard the phrase many times, "Why waste a good fight?"
What may happen when we agree to pay attention to feelings? Might we grow in God awareness, self-awareness, other awareness? Instead of treating feelings such as hurt and anger as awful feelings to push aside, what may happen if we made intentional decisions to learn from them?
What if we had included as part of the church wide covenant the guideline, we will choose to learn from feelings by practicing E.I.A.G.? Here's how I first discovered this practice:
After Rev. Brother Roy Oswald retired from the Alban Institute, he started EQHR: emotional intelligence for church leaders. Over the years, I have participated in two intensive training weeks provided by EQHR. Roy Oswald and Jenny Stephens facilitated the first one I attended. During one of the small group sessions, I fell in love with the practice referred to as E.I.A.G.
( I encourage you to check out Roy Oswald's book, "Emotional Intelligence for Church Leaders.")
(Likewise, I am thankful to Rev. Beth and Rev. Kelly Crissman for the awesome practices I learned as a facilitator of PlowPoint Ministries, www.plowpoint.org). During a training event, I realized the importance of forming covenants as part of every relationship. I encourage you to take a look at their books: "Longing to Belong" and "Stepping into The Stream.").
Here's a brief summary of the ways I practice E.I.A.G.:
For instance, during a meeting, someone expresses anger and leaves the room. Because we had previously agreed as a group to practice the process called E.I.A.G., instead of wondering what happened to so and so when they leave the room, we sit in silent prayer and wait. We wait to see if our friend chooses to return to the meeting. While we wait, we practice centering prayer. How do we do that?
We wait silently... Every time we feel a feeling, think a thought, remember something, or have an "Aha!" type experience, we gently let our attention drift back to a sacred word often inspired by scripture. Some, like me, choose to gently focus on breath. Doing this reminds us this is time to be with God.
After a Quaker silence, how long it takes depends upon whether or not our friend chooses to return. We have agreed that if s/he chooses to return, s/he needs to do so within twenty minutes. The facilitator pays attention to the clock while everyone else prays. If s/he doesn't return, we do not practice E.I.A.G. Perhaps a week or two or a month or two later the persons who left the room will invite the process of E.I.A.G. Over time, we wait and pray.
If the person who lost control of their emotions decides to return, we all know what that means. S/he is open to sharing and prayerfully playing with E.I.A.G. The council leader or pastor, whomever feels most present in the moment, facilitates a conversation. It's discovery time... Rather than play the shame/blame game, it's time to get curious. We invite the naming of feelings. We come beside of the dude and friend who a little while earlier stormed out of the room.
We begin with the first part of the process called Experience.
The facilitator invites our brother to talk about the trigger that took place during the meeting that led to the emotional outburst by describing their experience of what occurred.
Then others in the room are invited to describe their description of the experience.
Next comes the part referred to as Internal Reflection concerning what occurred. That's the I section of the process.
S/he proceeds to tells us what happened and what was taking place within her/his thinking, what was taking place within his/her emotions when this occurred. Then the facilitator gives each person in the room the opportunity if s/he so chooses, to name their experience of the moment:what s/he was thinking and feeling.
Now, it's time for the facilitator to lead us into Analysis. We began with the brother who stormed out of the room. He steps back to share prayerfully examined thought. This is what I am beginning to learn from this experience kind of rumination begins. Once again, persons in the room may share if s/he feels so led. Then the facilitator of this sacred process that nurtures holy conversation opening being with invites our friend to share the thoughts and behaviors he hopes to embody. As a result of what happened, what has he learned from this?
What is the Goal and Hopeful Outcome he would like to embody? Each person in the room is invited to share. Then we agree to look at this deeper at the next meeting. We will take time near the beginning of the meeting to check in. Then instead of hearing the treasurer's report shared right after the prayer, we participate in agreeing on next steps and process to help us continue to learn from what happened. We will connect more with God. We will connect more with each other. We will connect more with ways we can grow together and hep each other become more like Jesus. This of course helps make us healthier and we are more likely to enter into conversations with strangers an important part of relational evangelism. We are more likely to get curious by inviting feelings to lead us forward toward healthy change.
Oh yea, I almost forgot to share following every E.I.A.G., we take time to pracFollowing share Prayer and Praise.
After the meeting, we go up to our friend and greet our friend. We hug our friend. We connect on a deeper level. Like conflict transformation leaders say, "Never waste a good fight. The deep levels of hurt that led to the outburst reveal deep caring. If navigated well, this push button conversation can lead to discovery. Conversations like this over time can help us remove not yet discovered boulders we used to consider too big to move. The mountain is moved to the sea.
You know prayerfully relating with toddlers, carefully following toddlers is fertile ground for ways our Holy Father God "follows" us. Prayerfully relating with toddlers presents beautiful encounters with the triune God made flesh in Jesus.
Thank you Dada God, you listen. You do not try to talk us out of the pain and suffering we feel. You do not expect us to deny the excruciating pain we feel after the death of a loved one. You do not expect us to deny the anger we feel when we turn on the evening newscast only to watch bombs and guns kill children. You do not expect us to hold back the tears that cause us to wonder: what would lead a six year old to carry a gun to school and shoot his teacher? Holy Comforter and Counselor, you do not expect us to deny the anguish we feel when we hear about law-enforcement officers beating a weaponless man to death. You do not expect us to deny the anguish we feel when people blame all crime on law enforcement officers. You dare to embody the world's pain. You dared to embody all of the tears of the world for all time on the cross. Because you bore the tears caused by sin and separation on the cross, we get to cry like Mary did when the risen Christ hugged her at the empty tomb.
Perhaps the sacred process of tucking in a toddler for the night teaches us a lot about the ways Holy Father God hopes we ask him to go on dates with us. God, like a Mother; God, like a Father; God, like a Grandmother and Grandfather hopes we ask him to tuck us in before we lie down to sleep. God wants to tell us a story and hopes we can sing a song. God wants us to share what it really is like to be me.
Then perhaps we will care enough to wonder what it may be like to be God.
Perhaps we will care enough to wonder what it's like to be someone else; what it's like to be with a person who is crying; what it's like to listen and follow one another along the pilgrimage of life.
Good Night! Lord, Jesus! Tuck us in!
Daniel and Isabella with Pa Bart
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