catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 22 :: 2005.12.02 — 2005.12.15


Idle chatter is the Lord's playground

I don’t mean to be an eavesdropper, but every time I ride the bus, wait in a line, or stand near anyone with a cell phone, I can’t help but overhear friends chatting away. They talk about movies, about sports, about boyfriends and girlfriends, about their parties and their workplaces. And virtually none of it is interesting. There is little so tedious as other people’s conversations.

I begin to long for the days in college when I could walk in on a midnight discussion about free will versus determinism, or hear people discuss interesting tidbits they’d gleaned in class. Everyone was so focused on learning and growth, on developing and stretching their minds, that even idle chatter took on insight and import. Surely, as a student of life, my own conversations still have a spark of wit, eloquence, and meaning—don’t they?

As it turns out, not really. I recently made a mental note of my random blather, eavesdropping on myself so to speak, and am sure I bored to tears any passersby. I spoke of things that couldn’t possibly be of interest to anyone except my wife. I made silly puns, talked about our job, droned on about movies and about the news, what we would eat for dinner. I practically bored myself, in fact, and wondered if I should take a vow of silence to give my wife a break from Blabby McChatterbox. But in truth, she wants to hear what I have to say. When we were recently apart for three days, we talked on the phone all the time even though we had nothing particular to share. We missed each other’s company. Love is, I think, taking an interest in the day-to-day, unfiltered stream of thoughts that compose a person.

I have a definite preference for deep conversation. Some of my best memories of growing up were staying up late with my brother and discussing love, God, books, teachers, the past and the future. I’m a forceful proponent at our church for small-group discussion, intentional conversation, group prayer, discipleship and mentoring. If we’re going to get together, let’s move it beyond small talk. But maybe I’ve missed something. Maybe I’ve overlooked how important it is just to stand there with a person and listen to her talk about a colleague I’ve never met or a TV show I don’t watch. Perhaps in aspiring to stretch and deepen others I fail to meet people in their element. Perhaps I am so focused on words and on content that I miss the context of a human being reaching out with the ordinary, unspectacular essence of herself.

College really wasn’t that different from now. The difference was that back then I was willing to pay attention. My social circle was in flux and I was always willing to listen to a new acquaintance and see what developed. The pattern of my life was not set and I was curious about all the different interests and perspectives out there in the world. I’d made virtually no choices in life and was wandering the buffet table. Now I’m 30, and have chosen a marriage, a city, a job, a church, particular hobbies, certain clothes, a set of friends. I’m less curious, less searching. I tend to want people around me who are going to affirm my choices rather than jar them. I’m more likely to evaluate a conversation by how it might interest or benefit me. I might as well be eavesdropping.

I need to remember that catching up with someone is not just asking for the highlights. It’s seeking the midtones and shadows as well, the depth and dimension of a person. It can be so hard to make time for phone calls and emails, for dinners and cups of coffee. It’s hard to be on a schedule and yet still allow for open times of trivial prattle. But maybe this is where the glue of friendship is, simply creating space to be uninteresting together, to unburden ourselves, unwind, to unfilter the brain and just be. Idle chatter is a way of saying: Here I am. Will you hear me? In the same way that God desires not only our requests and our burdens but to know us in our totality, I need the courage to say yes, I am here also.

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