By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
RIVERSIDE — Shortly into a daylong workshop on “Radical Listening in the Family,” facilitator Barb Schwery asked participants to leave their tables and find a quiet space to listen to God. “How do we listen to others if we don’t listen to God first?” she asked.
Sponsor couples in the Diocese of Davenport were especially encouraged to participate in the June 9 workshop at St. Mary Church to enhance their listening skills for the benefit of their marriages, families and the engaged couples they serve.
Schwery, Executive Director of Befriender Ministry National Office, based in Bloomington, Minn., identified these objectives for the 27 workshop attendees:
• Enrich your marriage and family relationships. Learn to model effective listening skills for the engaged couples you serve.
• Develop the attitudes and skills necessary to live out Pope Francis’ call to be radical listeners.
• Devote intentional time to listen to God, self and others.
• Leave with practical tools to transform your listening relationships.
Before heading out to listen to God, participants talked in small groups about the term “radical” and its application to listening. Karen Dugan of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire noted that radical takes its meaning from the Latin word “radicalis,” or “root.”
Participants explored the roots of their listening skills in their relationships with their spouses, family members and others. They learned that when their cup is overflowing from the stresses, events and situations of the day, they are less likely to listen with understanding and compassion. Think about what’s in your cup and how you can create space in it, Schwery told them. Maybe it’s prayer, self-reflection or music. Each person also needs to be aware of the lens through which she/he views the world. “Our assumptive world broadens when we learn about each other’s perspective.”
Couples took turns listening to each other while one participant served as an observer, watching couples interact. By the third exchange, the observer noticed that the couples were listening to understand rather than to reply. Listening is like a dance in which the speaker takes the lead and the listener follows, Schwery said.
Participants Dennis and Jan Phelps of St. Mary Parish in Grinnell have worked with engaged couples for about 25 years. “We realize that when we work with engaged couples, the process we use helps us communicate better in our marriage. Even though a person may have the skills to communicate effectively, rarely do we always use them. Especially when effective communication is needed most, we allow emotions and other issues to interfere,” Jan said. “One take away from the workshop for Dennis was ‘we need to listen for caring not curing.’ In other words, listen to understand how the other person is feeling, not to find a solution or fix.”
Jan’s take away: “Listening is like a dance, one person talks, the other person follows. We go where they lead us. Also, listening is a way of being. It is about attention, awareness, and genuinely wanting to hear someone else’s story. Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, and others over self. Everyone can learn from these principles.”
Brian Dugan, husband of Karen, “found similar situations and communication gaps within the married couples at our table — yet there was a wide range of ages of the couples, length of marriage and family makeup. The biggest stressor to good communication within the family seems to be the somewhat chaotic schedules we try to maintain and that sometimes interferes with good communication. We all place different priorities even on the simplest aspects of our lives and there can be conflict when these priorities do not coincide with those of our spouse and family members.”
Karen noted that she and Brian will celebrate 20 years of marriage later this year. “I felt it could be a gift for us to learn new ways of listening to each other! And we could also be working with engaged couples in the future. It’s great to have tools that we’ve put to use ourselves to share with others.”
The biggest take away for her: “creating space in my cup so I can listen with understanding and compassion. I can do that through prayer, silent time with God, talking things out with God — maybe while out walking in nature or even as I’m exercising. I’m responsible for my cup first; nothing can come in if it’s full! God is always waiting there to help me (us) — all I (we) need to do is turn to him for help. That was a powerful tool from the workshop I can use in my everyday life!”