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Have you noticed how certain phrases in inspired conference talks tend to jump out at you? As we approach another great general conference, I want to share a life-changing experience I had a while back with a conference talk. I was reading President Eyring’s message from the priesthood session of the 2009 April General Conference. He was talking about the priesthood responsibility of home teaching, and the words I’m referring to were directed toward young home teachers. However, his message touched my heart in regard to all my personal stewardships.
He said, “You will watch and listen with great intensity and humility during the visit. . . the Lord knows their spiritual state and their needs perfectly. He loves them. And because you know He sends you to act for Him, you can have faith that you can sense their needs and what you can do to meet your charge to help. . . I can promise you from experience that you will be given the gift to know what is well with them. And from that you will be able to encourage them.”1
I kept thinking, first of all, of those words, “listen with great intensity.” How much of the time, in my interactions with those on my visiting teaching district, or with my loved ones, do I listen with “great intensity”? How often do I interrupt (my husband’s pet peeve) or hog the time instead? Would I be inclined to jump to conclusions or make quick judgments of anyone if I were in the mindset of hearing them out, not casually listening with one ear, but listening with great intensity, employing both mind and heart?z
The rest of the message is of equal value: President Eyring promised that when we listen to those over whom we have stewardship with great intensity, we would be given the gift of knowing what is well with them. Why? So we can offer encouragement. Those words struck me with great force because I know they are true and because they are backwards from what I’m inclined to do—notice what needs to be improved and hope the other person will listen with great intensity to me!
Imagine what a different scenario I could create if I would, instead listen with great intensity with the purpose of being blessed with the knowledge of what is well with them. Then, when I did speak, my words could honestly affirm that person and encourage them in their belief that their efforts and strengths are noticed and appreciated.
The Babemba Principle
I’m fascinated with the story of a tribe in southern Africa called the Babemba. When a member of this tribe does something wrong, something that could damage or destroy the delicate social net, all work in the village comes to a halt. The people gather around the “offender” and take turns reciting everything they can think of that he has done right in his life. Speaking honestly, they remind him of his good deeds, thoughtful behavior, and acts of social responsibility.2
In our culture, even in our family culture, do we give offenders the chance to remember who they are and their potential for positive impact? We live in a society, where insults and put-downs and criticism are the norm. In this desert of the soul, we may feel like we are dying of emotional thirst. How does it feel when we need a life-giving cup of cool water and we get buckets of sand poured on our heads instead? I’ve experienced that kind of nightmare and you may have too.
If we are ever tempted to be on the sand-dumping side—communicating things we think are wrong with another person—we should remember Jesus’ profound words to those intent on stoning the woman taken in adultery, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7)
Since no one of us is without sin, no one of us is qualified to cast stones at anyone else. Instead, let’s gather around those whose behavior troubles us, listen to them with great intensity, and ask for the gift of seeing what is well with them. Then, like the Babemba we can help them remember their potential for positive contributions.
Author Christina Baldwin suggests that by communicating honestly and well we can move in the direction of Babemba tradition. That “we remember our capacity to lean in and love each other into wholeness.”3
I love that phrase, “lean in and love each other into wholeness.” Isn’t that what the Babemba tribe did? Isn’t that what President Eyring was suggesting that we do?
I had a Babemba experience yesterday when I called to report my visiting teaching for the month. My supervisor is a dear lady I have always admired, but never expressed my love to. This time, we got into quite a conversation, and as I really listened to her, I felt inclined to share how much I admired her faithfulness, her kindness, her good example. I was rewarded with encouraging and uplifting words in return. We’ve known each other for twenty years, but only yesterday did we take the opportunity to tell each other what “was well” from our perspective. The sharing created a new bond between us. What a wonderful process encouragement is and how sad that we don’t more often get involved in it!
Listening to God
The Babemba practice seems perfectly in tune with the way the Lord deals with us—with charity. Keeping our focus on what is well with a person, what he is doing right feels full of light and truth. I experience the fruits of this principle it whenever I choose to read my patriarchal blessing and listen with my heart to the encouraging voice of the Lord that shines through those words.
Listening is the very key to our relationship with God; only when we listen can He communicate what is well with us or give us guidance. I remember how intensely I listened the day I was given my patriarchal blessing and how much encouragement I received from it—and still do. Whenever we listen with great intensity to the Lord we receive support, strength and encouragement. But how often do we forget to listen?
The constant noise in our high-tech culture compromises our ability to listen with great intensity for the promptings of the still small voice. We may be wired to hear everything else but. We need to unplug, disconnect from the media and the chaos and find quiet places in our lives where we can ponder and pray. What good are promptings if we don’t hear them?
What good are prayers if we don’t listen for the answer?
The Lord said, “He that hath ears let him hear,” (Matthew 11:15). Furthermore, He promised, “And to you that hear shall more be given” (Mark 4:24).
Listening to the word of God is the most sure guidance for our lives. We receive this encouragement and guidance from the Holy Ghost as He guides us moment by moment, from the scriptures, from our leaders, from conference talks.
I have received much encouragement and inspiration from returning to talks given in conference. One time I decided to record one quote from each that seemed most inspiring to me so I could quickly refer to the list. That is how I landed on President Eyring’s quote that has made such a difference in my thinking.
May we listen to our upcomg general conference with great intensity. As we do, I feel sure we will hear the Lord speaking encouraging messages to our hearts. I’m convinced we will hear what is well with us and what we can do to better encourage others.
1 President Henry D. Eyring, “Man Down!”, April 2009 General Conference, Ensign, May 2009, 65, emphasis added.
2 See Skycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, Christina Baldwin, New World Library, Novato, CA, 2005, 18-19.
3 Skycatcher, 19