I was listening to a podcast a few weeks ago and the interviewee said she had been convicted to listen to what others were really saying instead of hearing what she wanted to respond to.
That really got me thinking. How often do I ‘listen’ to what others are telling me but my mind is actually focused on all the things I'm going to say once they stop talking? We've all had moments that run like this: ‘Oh, they're talking about hiking. I can tell them about the time I went to so-and-so and hiked that steep trail. It was definitely worse than anything they are describing.’ And in the process of thinking about and framing our story, we completely miss what the other person was communicating.
When we are busy formulating how we want to respond before the person has even finished, we are making ourselves more important then anything the other person could be telling us. But when we really listen to others and our aim is to help them, sometimes we don't need to say anything. Sometimes the person that is sharing with us merely needs to share. She doesn't need to hear a lesson based on our experience. She doesn't need to know that we are experts in what she is going through. Often people need a sounding board or they just need to know that someone is there and that you will be praying and that you are willing to listen.
In James 1:19, it says, 'Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.' We seem to use this verse more in terms of not responding in anger. If we are slow to anger and slow to speak, we are less likely to say something out of anger. But I think that we cannot discount the part of the verse that says to be quick to hear. We are becoming a society that does not like to listen to others. We prefer to listen to ourselves, to our own ideas, to our own thoughts. And yet James tells us in that verse we need to be quick — even eager — to listen to what others have to say and we should be slow and thoughtful in the response that we give.
Truly listening to someone not only takes practice; it also takes time. I admit sometimes I'm trying to hurry a conversation along by finishing sentences and summing up in my words what I believe the other person is trying to say. We think we are aiding the conversation but in reality, we are being selfish by not letting the person we are speaking to completely explain himself. There is an epidemic in our society of people hearing what they want to hear or what they expect someone to say in order to prove their point or their point of view. We see this constantly in the political landscape.
But as Christians we should hold ourselves to a higher standard. Jesus demonstrated compassion to those he ministered to and we do not know how to be compassionate and what a person's needs are if we are not first willing to sit next to her and listen to her needs. Sometimes we think listening must equal doing. If we hear of someone's problem, we are obligated to try and fix it. We need to become comfortable with hearing people's opinions, thoughts, and hurts, and not always trying to fix them. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is offer an ear to listen without commentary and a shoulder for them to lean on when they need it and prayers that God will give them wisdom where others are lacking. It really is selfish and arrogant of us to believe we always must be dispensing of our wisdom.
This does not mean that we can never offer advice or that we should always stay silent in the face of others opinions. But we should strive to be more discerning in when and how our advice and opinion is handed out. If we become known as someone who loves to hear our own voice or who enjoys giving advice more than listening, then we will soon not have anyone come to us. Think about your own life. If you have someone that you go to hoping for a listening ear about a struggle and encouragement in prayer with you and instead she talks about how she has successfully navigated that issue and doesn't hear your concerns at all, how likely are you to go to her again? In this situation, we have limited who we can support and encourage by our attitude and lack of concern.
There is a time for everything. There is a time to give advice and there is a time to be silent. A time for us to share our experiences and a time for us to learn from others. We need to be discerning and gracious in how we handle each of these situations and in all things, they must be done and covered in love and prayer.
Photo by Cesar Abner Martinez Aguilar on Unsplash