Thursday, June 20, 2019

Conversation Stoppers

My father-in-law never met a stranger.  He could turn to an unknown person standing behind him in line and start up a conversation.  He could turn to a person he had never met seated beside him in the theater or concert hall and begin visiting like a long-lost friend.

He had an enormous supply of “conversation starters.”  He might ask, “Have you lived in this area long?” or observe “Your hands look like they’ve seen some hard work over the years” or “Your accent reminds me of New York. Have you ever lived there?”  His “conversation starters” always conveyed his personal interest and curiosity about the unknown person.  Such an approach never failed to get the stranger talking about himself or herself like a new friend.

I admired my father-in-law’s ability to quickly and gently break through social barriers with his “conversation starters.”  But I wish I could consult with him about some problems I am currently having with “conversation stoppers”.

In my present state of declining health, I am discovering that common phrases I used to take for granted are becoming “conversation stoppers.”  That is, phrases such as “How are you?” temporarily stops conversation as I consider whether I should answer truthfully or kindly.  Does my friend really care enough to listen for 20 minutes to my description of my most recent breathing challenges and weakness?  Or should I be kinder to their limits of concern and time schedule and just answer “I’m OK.”

“Surely you’ll get better soon,” is another of those “conversation stopper” phrases.  How should I respond?  Should I answer honestly?  “Excuse me.  You don’t seem to understand my situation.  I’m not going to get better.  I am going to slowly and steadily get worse until I die!”  It is far kinder to say, “Thank you.  I hope so, too!”  Since I don’t like to upset friends or other people, that is my usual comeback.

Another “conversation stopper” I’ve had to deal with several times is the stranger who approaches me in a public place and asks,”May I pray for you?”  I am not used to being prayed for in public. On the other hand, I am deeply grateful for prayer support from my many friends, so innocently I’ve said “Yes.”  What has followed several times is a lengthy prayer spoken aloud in a commanding voice instructing God exactly what God is to do for me!

Now don’t misunderstand me, friends.  I believe in God and I believe in the power of prayer.  I even believe in God’s healing power, but I also believe that acceptance of God’s love - even in an unwanted form - is more important than demanding God to perform a miracle!  I must confess that these events embarrassed me.  After a quick and quiet “Thank you” I went looking for some private place where I could offer my apologies to God!

“Conversation stoppers” continue to pop up from time to time.  I have not yet figured out what to do with them.  Do you have any suggestions?