Learning to Listen
When our girls were in high school and they needed to unload the overwhelming realities and frustrations of life, I had to re-learn how to listen. But first, I’d stop them right in the middle of the 'rant' and ask them this question, "Whoa… Just checking. Do you just need to vent right now (and I’ll just listen) or do you want me to brainstorm possible solutions or insights to the problem with you?"
Guess what the answer was 99% of the time?
Yep, you likely guessed right. The answer typically was – “I just need to talk it out.”
There were many blessings that came out of that mini time-out. We both were now on the same page. My daughter could talk freely and passionately about all that was weighing heavy on her mind and heart. The responsibility to “mother” her was now lifted off of my shoulders and put back into the Lord's hands. With our roles and perspectives put in place, I was then able to fully turn my attention to her – and be a listening ear, a comforting mama and a concerned friend. Yes, there were also times when they were genuinely looking for advice and ideas. In those moments, I’d ask questions, we’d problem solve together and I might (depending on the day) give a little extra motherly advice or a reminder from Scripture. No matter which role my daughter needed me to take on in a given situation, those moments together always served as a reminder to pray for them as they processed life and - hopefully - sought God's counsel.
Soon, all the girls had graduated from high school and inevitably faced more challenges in college and young adulthood. Relationships, marriage, childbirth, job challenges all came racing to the forefront. An exciting time of life which was full of new experiences – and new challenges. Now, life continues on, and I'm so thankful for the moments when we share life together and have the freedom to say to each other – “What do you need right now? A counselor. A listening ear. A cheerleader. Or, a problem solver?”
This listening exercise with my daughters eventually gave me the courage to take mini time-outs in other situations when I'm called on to listen – or to give advice. With friends or church family, however, it may look a little different. I still purpose to listen first. And then listen some more. And maybe even listen some more. Only then, do I consider whether it is best to offer advice (especially if asked for) or to gently ask them, “Would you like to pray together about the situation or would you like to talk through some possible things to try to help the situation?” Listening is so much easier than giving advice, once you learn to actually listen. But, boy does it take practice.
Proverbs 18 gives us two very direct words of counsel regarding our listening skills –
“Fools find no pleasure in understanding (listening), but delight in airing their own opinions.” (v. 2)
“To answer before listening – that is folly and shame.” (v. 13)
Opinions are easy, but it takes a lot of self-control to listen first and then give a thoughtful answer. To actually focus on what the person is trying to share with us so that we can gain a true understanding is hard work. The temptation is to start formulating in our minds what we will say next - a word of comfort or a word of counsel. Instead, we must continue the constant battle to tame our tongues all while redirecting our minds to truly listen.
Ultimately, we must always keep our focus on, and direct others to the truth that, the Holy Spirit is our only true counselor and guide. God is the One that has all the answers we need, but He also often gifts us with others to walk alongside of us in life's challenging moments. And, sometimes it is just good to lay it all on the table with a trusted friend, mother, daughter or colleague. Taking the time to talk it out is often beyond therapeutic. Together, we can listen to each other and then allow the Holy Spirit to work it out for our good as we walk through the muck together!
It is only by the grace of God that we will ever succeed with James' challenge when he says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (1:19) What is true in your life today? Are you quick to speak and slow to listen? Or, have you learned to be slow to speak and quick to listen?
Dear Heavenly Father,
It is so easy to allow our words to spill out of our mouths before we have really taken the time to listen. We formulate opinions often before we have even heard the whole story. Helps us to remember, Lord, that there are always two sides to a story. That everyone truly wants to be heard. Help us to have the self-control to hold our tongue, and give us an extra desire to hear the heart of others. To truly seek to understand. May we always remember to point others to You for their answers, their comfort and their peace. May we be your listening ears and arms of love to our families, friends and husbands. Give us the courage to be quick to listen and slow to speak.