It was supposed to be just another cup of coffee. That’s all I expected, and certainly all I was prepared for. I walked into Barnes & Noble and waded my way through a group of bored high-school girls flipping pages of Seventeen in the magazine section as I headed toward the café. I promptly took a deep satisfying breath. Mmmm … coffee … I ordered my tall extra-mocha-mocha and sat down at the table, a little breathless. As usual, I was running a few minutes late. Nothing out of the ordinary here … I’ve had countless meetings exactly like this one.
OK, I’m ready to talk business. Let’s go. I was meeting with Dan, one of the pastors at my church, someone I’ve only recently begun working for. I opened my notebook, grabbed my pen and was fully prepared to talk shop on what needed to be done on my current project.
“So first and foremost, how’s your life? How’s Stacey doing?”
Um, that’s not your line. Hmm. How am I doing? My holiday season was rough, even prior to getting dumped just before New Year’s, and vocationally, I’d been wondering if maybe the time for dreaming had passed me by. Things just weren’t moving forward like I’d hoped. I tried to think of a brief way to answer him, so we could get back to what needed to get done. No way he really wanted to hear this.
Dan crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, seeming to signal that he was okay with waiting on my response while I figured out what to say. I was planning on saying “great” or “fine” or another customary something-or-other, when I realized he wasn’t just being polite. He was in no hurry.
Thus began a conversation that, while probably commonplace for him, is now listed in my book as pivotal: influential, life-changing, even.
Apparently Dan didn’t know any of his lines. The next hour would be spent, not telling me what needed to be done, but asking me about what I love to do, what makes me come alive. He didn’t stop at politely inquiring about my passions—he point-blank requested a good reason for why I’m not currently chasing wholeheartedly after them. Even beyond that, he let me know that he already saw me as someone who is capable of doing the things I dream of, that he sees God at work.
Leaving our meeting, I walked out with a whole lot more than a nice caffeine buzz. I left with five million formerly dormant possibilities running rampant in my stirred-up brain. Quite frankly, he messed me up. I can’t sleep at night for how full my heart and mind are with ideas and what-if’s and wouldn’t-that-be-incredible.
It’s completely amazing, the power we hold in our words, in our time, in our taking notice of another God-created human being. We get so busy; we are so consistently pressed for time and so wholly engulfed in running our own agenda that we hardly see the people we care for the most, much less dialogue with them about what’s really important. How sad, that we so often miss opportunities to nudge people toward the callings that lie buried beneath the surface … the ambitions and desires people never speak about because, even in the abstract, they just seem so big and scary and unlikely.
Even as my own heart has been reawakened by this simple conversation, I’ve realized that I can have a similar impact on people in my world. Looking at these life-changing exchanges from my own experience, I’ve been trying to find a common thread. There are probably many, but I boiled it down to three. Three simple things you can do to basically ruin a person for safe, ordinary, resigned-to-their-fate living.
First, you have to be keenly interested in their story, in the chapters already written. Not only interested in generalities, but in details. Big moments. Key influences. Most people won’t unpack these things right away. Why? I think a lot of us are concerned, given our hurried culture, that we’ll take up too much time talking, so we go with the Cliff’s Notes version unless someone proves they’re really and truly interested. How do you prove this? By asking questions that show you’re attentively listening, in detail, to what they are sharing. By purposely trying to read between the lines; looking past the spoken words to the heart beyond.[As a side note, I feel the need to prepare you for what will undoubtedly happen the moment you ask someone to tell you their story: You’ll have to fight this inexplicable urge to immediately jump in with some anecdote from your own story. You’ll want to compare. You’ll want to advise. You’ll want to say, “I remember when I used to think about life that way.” Please don’t do this. Let the moment be about them, with no agenda of your own.]
Second, you continue asking questions, except that you shift the focus from the past to the here-and-now. You start digging a little deeper, past the surface, trying to understand their aspirations. Dan did this by asking me questions like “If you could be doing anything …?” and “What makes you come alive?” and “What do you most enjoy doing?” I was kind of startled. It had been a while since even I had thought about these things. I’d been hiding from them, immersed in the safety of day-to-day routine and thoughts of “Well, that would be nice … someday,” and “It’s a cool thought, but …”
Then he asked the really big painfully obvious question. “Why aren’t you doing those things? What’s in your way?”
Even though I hadn’t thought about the dreams themselves in a while, I had no problem rattling off a list of the barriers to them. He listened. Just listened. And seemed to understand. And then, after I’d exhausted my list, he told me what he sees. (This is the third step. This is where you finally get to talk.)
There is nothing more encouraging than being told that someone already sees in you clear glimpses of the person you want so desperately to become. There is nothing more relieving than realizing that, in all your hoping, in all your wondering if you’d really heard from God, it wasn’t just you. I don’t care who you are, when someone sees in you God-given worth, potential, great opportunity to be used for something beautiful … and they take the time to say it … it changes you. The impossible doesn’t seem so out of reach. God’s whispers to your heart have now been echoed in a human voice, spoken by a human face. There’s a quiet power there in those moments.
For me, that hour spent over coffee, that simple conversation, brought renewed courage and faith when I sorely needed it. There are people in my world, and most likely in yours as well, who are in dire need of a conversation like the one I just had. Be that person who’s willing to slow down and notice what’s going on beneath the surface; who is willing to care about the details. Be a person who sees past the present; who sees what is yet to be.
Simply put: be a Dan (or a Julie, or a Matt, for that matter). Be you … used by God to breathe new life into those who are weary. Those in your world are waiting.