This is an exercise to explore what it means to be a soul friend by sharing personal history in confidence and prayer. Each person is take turns in the role as listener and narrator. Take at least an hour each (or more time if necessary).
In preparation, think through your story and write a few notes as a kind of outline of your story. Along with that keep a note-book handy to write what ever comes to mind as prayer reminders. Learn to listen, pray as you can, and be as honest with God, another person, yourself as best as you can.
Even though you may be familiar with your story, and may have told components from time to time, this is an exercise in integration and deep listening – including you listening to yourself, as you make connections to events that you may not have before. Allow yourself to feel what you feel as you tell your story.
“Real soul friendship acknowledges the mystery of the other person. Each person remains always partly a stranger to himself for part of the wonder of being a person is the continual discoveries that you find emerging in your own self.” John O’Donohue, Eternal Echoes
Short Personal History:
One person at a time: one person narrates their life, the other intently listens. Allow your friend to enter into their personal history slowly, as this can only be gained with growing confidence in each other. Begin with general facts, and over time fill in more intimate details. Avoid moving too fast; learn to listen, empathize slowly. Deep memories may only arise slowly. Pray as you listen inwardly, so that you too may be guided to have insights while you listen and question. The listener can probe more deeply to clarify first impressions, as well as stimulate memories.
The listener is primarily trying to assist the narrator to express interior experiences and deep feelings that may have interconnections the narrator has not linked together before. The narrator needs to feel they are paid attention to – taken seriously – as they may not ever have been. It is a profound thing for a person to feel the power of listening – to be understood and accepted.
Aim to create a safe environment for confidentiality and trust. Remember: the listener will soon be the narrator. As a listener – consider the acronym “WAIT” (“why am I talking”) if you hear yourself talking [too much] when the narrator has been trying to share their story. It is always better for insight or deeper understanding to be made by the narrator – for this becomes their own possession internally.
Sometimes the narrator can’t find the words easily, or at all; be patient. Prod gently, but let the narrator find their own words. If you as the listener think something key has been left out – ask about it.
As the listener, you can summarize what you’ve heard and encourage the narrator to express his/her insights/issues in prayer. You may do this through out the process, or at the end.
Phases of Personal History
Describe the when, where, how of your upbringing and family life. What was “your normal?” What were the traumas, childlike or catastrophic as they may be. What are your vivid memories, and what do you like or dislike about you childhood.
Were you aware of God; did you have a spiritual sense at all? What was your experience of church, school and the people you met there? What were your hobbies; what took the lion’s share of your time? What were your dreams as a child?
Describe the entry into and through puberty? When and what did you discover about your sexuality. What were the primary issues and topics over which you spent time thinking? Talk about your friends and/or the betrayals of friendships. Where was God in this time of your life?
What was your high school years like? Did you have a sense of direction, preparation, vision? Were you going to post secondary education, on a big trip, or a gap year, or did you go straight to work? What did your spiritual journey look like? Where was God; where were spiritual friendships in your life?
Marriage and Family:
Talk about your courtship; getting married and the dynamics of getting to know yourself in the process of getting to know your spouse better. What were key decisions, arguments or incidents in your early courtship/marriage? If you have children – how did you decide when to start a family; what were you hoping your marriage/family to be like? What is your marriage and family really like? Where was God in all this?
Where is God in your life? What is the role of friends in your spiritual journey? What are your deep disappointments/frustrations you have with God? What do you deeply desire from God, from life, from your friends, from your spouse? What now? What is the pressing desire you have that often is left unsaid/un-prayed? Can you speak it/pray it now?
Now that you’ve heard yourself go through the phases of your life, what is it that you heard as you integrated all the elements of your life? Do you like what you’ve heard? What do you wish never happened? What do you wish Jesus did then, or would do now? What would you like to pray about, or have another person pray with you about? What did you appreciate about your listener.
Would you like to confess and receive forgiveness?
Take as much time as you need; then switch roles. Offer the other person the privilege of being listened to, and fortunately, to be understood.
This practicum was taken from a course I took with Dr. James M. Houston at Regent College, 1994. I have found it fruitful every time I’ve done this with men and in men’s groups (though it is not gender specific).
For more, go to “The Greatest Gift of My Friendship.“