01 March 2016

The Art of Listening

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. As someone who has both counseled and been counseled, I would say that some of the toughest situations are when you have someone in front of you, you have so much to say, and God says "No, just listen."

As counselors, we're trained to take Scripture and help folks apply it to all aspects of life. We are taught how to effectively walk people through all kinds of situations. We've memorized the top-ten Scripture passages for anything life has to dish out--in alphabetical order.

It's how we think.

It's how we process. 

So, it would stand to reason that when someone approaches us with an issue, a crisis, or a situation, we immediately whip out our mental concordance and start searching for the right verse, the perfect Bible story or name for God. (Sometimes, I have found myself doing these mental gymnastics while the person is still talking!) We have, in our sincere eagerness to help people, lost the art of listening. Not listening with the intent of teaching--listening with the intent of .....well, listening.
We have somehow convinced ourselves that the world "needs" us. Our wisdom, our strengths, our knoweldge and experience. Who else is going to impart the spiritual truths of God's Word to their breaking hearts? But I submit to you that, if we're not careful, we begin to look at ourselves as "fixers" instead of friends. People become projects, and sadly relationships become mere trophies of a "successful" ministry. I've been on both sides of this dichotomy and it's heart-wrenching from both ends.
"Yeah, but.....I had the perfect verse."
That may be true. But the fact of the matter is that sometimes the hurting person in front of you may not be in a place to even hear it . . . not yet anyway. Grief, trauma, loss -- it can be so overwhelming at times that processing any outside information becomes impossible, no matter how well-intended. God may give you that opportunity later, or He may have someone further along life's path to share these truths.
But I don't believe that is the only reason that God may ask for quietness. Maybe God will not give me liberty to speak because He has something for me to learn in their story.
"Um...yeah right. You don't know how messed up they are. They don't have any part of their life together. I don't even know if they are Christians. What could they possibly teach me??"
You don't think God can use an unbeliever to help this missionary lady learn a thing or two?? He used Rahab to help the spies. Men of Israel, God's people - going to a harlot for help. (True story!) Sometimes I need to listen because I'm not the one to teach that person anything. Sometimes, I'm the one learning.
Reading this quote today reminded me of this truth: There are times when the best thing we can do is not do anything but simply listen. I know it's been true for me. I've been blessed with a husband and a few close friends who have taught me the art of listening. They've helped me through the darkest valleys of my life. Sometimes with Scripture -- sometimes with silence. (To those dear folks, I say thank you. You know who you are.) In turn, I've had God impress on my heart to share with hurting folks truths from His Word. However, I've also had Him impress on my heart to listen, hug, hold, and not to talk. It's harder than it sounds!! But I can say I've definitely seen the benefits in my life and in others.
When James said to be swift to hear and slow to speak, he was not talking to fool-hardy, unsaved, annoying people. He was talking to Christians. God doesn't always need our mouths--sometimes He wants to use our ears too.