“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
About six months ago, I spoke to a large group of priests and by all accounts the session went over pretty well. I received kind words, several handshakes, and a few very nice emails from my diocesan hosts. One of those emails was inviting me back to speak to all the priests this Fall. While I was very humbled by the invitation, I was worried. I had put a lot of time into my first presentation and didn’t think I had a lot more or different to offer. With roughly half the room having already heard it, I was sure that the reception wouldn’t be as positive.
In the weeks leading up to “take two,” I was fixated and paralyzed about what new insights or helpful tips I could bring. Upon arriving at the hotel, I immediately saw a familiar priest face from the first row of the last session. I gave the priest a knowing smile and walked toward him to shake his hand. “Good to see you Father,” I said. The priest smiled and said, “Are you new at the diocese?” I awkwardly reminded him of delivering a talk last spring and then thought to myself, “Well at least one guy won’t remember.” After another familiar face asked me if I worked at the hotel, suddenly my fear of my audience comparing every word turned into a different fear that maybe nothing was actually heard.
Then, finally, one younger priest enthusiastically greeted me in the hallway, reminded me he attended the last session and said he looked forward to my presentation. “Eureka!” I thought. Looking for some intel, I asked the priest what specifically he thought was helpful that I should share with his brothers. “Oh well, I don’t actually remember what you said, but I remember leaving excited about mission.”
The good news was I was able to reuse my talk. As I processed the humbling exchanges with my wife, she further confirmed that at work, and at home, nobody actually remembers what I say. Then she said, “But whatever you said in the Spring and however you said it, made them want to keep talking.” She may have also suggested that I work on doing that more in other parts of my life.
Our words matter, but so does our delivery. In my life and leadership, do I choose my tone as carefully as I choose my words? Does my presentation of the truth invite more questions, more discussion, more opportunity for dialogue? When things feel hard to say, do I realize how hard they might be to hear? Is it my goal to simply get a point across or win an argument, or am I called to build, maintain, and deepen a relationship? In my reception of the Word, am I trying to process an intellectual concept or do I enter into it as if I’m hearing from the most important person in my life?
The second go around seemed to be well received. There were handshakes, kind words, and a few emails, but I think I got across that I didn’t work in catering and that I was blessed to be on the journey with these priests in ministry. Prayers for how the Lord will speak through you this week.
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