How to Give The Holy Gift of Listening
In the beginning, there was God. God was the whole of all there was. And God imagined.
God imagined all that could be. After all, He is limitless and creative. When He spoke, his very breath caused things to come into being, just as He intended and imagined for them to be. But, if God was all, how was there room enough for anything else?
I’ve puzzled over this for quite some time and have come to a conclusion: In order to make space for creation to exist, God placed boundaries around Himself. The great Divine One pulls Himself aside to make space for us. What a thought! The One who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end of all things, restrained Himself so we could have the space to be called forth into life.
I am astounded when I think of the risk God took when He chose to create us. Not only did He place constraints on Himself to make space for us to exist, but He pursues relationship with us despite knowing that He would endure much rejection. Even in the very act of creating, God gave us a priceless gift.
And in the same way, we can give that gift to others. Deep level listening is a gift that mirrors this great self-giving of God. But, what do I mean when I talk about deep-level listening? How do I make space for others to be called forth into life?
If we are talking about listening to another person, then why are we talking about us? One of the biggest keys to making space for another person is to know yourself. Be aware of the things in you that may interfere with the other person being free to be who they are and where they are. Self-awareness is likely your single most important tool in working with others.
Listen to Hear
This may seem obvious, but it isn’t something people do often. Most of the time, we listen to other people so that we will be equipped to respond, hopefully with some intelligent insight or something. But, what we often do not realize is that the person we encounter may not even need us to respond.
Most often, people don’t need to encounter our supreme intelligence or quick wit. Most often, people need to encounter Jesus. The problem is that the more we try to respond, the more we typically get in the way of that encounter.
If we listen to hear the person’s heart, however, we are better equipped to hear how the person’s heart and the heart of God can connect. Then, the things we do say are more likely to point them to Him. And then sometimes, all a person really needs is to be heard. When you hear their heart on a deep level and welcome them as they are, many people will progress forward into life without much effort on your part.
Welcome People as They Are
This is incredibly difficult sometimes. So often, we in the helping professions have such a strong idea of a person’s potential that it is easy to have higher expectations for them than they are ready or equipped to meet. This is unfair and counterproductive. If we are truly to invite others forth into life, we have to begin by loving them just as they are. You may see what wonderful things they are capable of, but they are not that person yet.
It is far better to focus on the truth of who they are now and love them there, letting them decide who they wish to be and the speed at which they progress. When they feel less pressure to perform, you will build the trust needed for them to be honest and open about where they are. Only when they can be honest about where they are can they assess where they want to be and how to get there.
Get Comfortable with Silence
Silence can be uncomfortable. Ok, it can be downright unnerving. But, you must become comfortable with it. Sometimes words are not needed. Sometimes words are woefully inadequate. In these moments, silence speaks better than any of the contrived, pithy sayings we use when we don’t know what to say.
Why is it better? Silence acknowledges the deep places where words are not enough. It communicates that you honor the human experiences that transcend language. Silence also communicates that you are not threatened by the other person’s discomfort. In this way, you can be an unanxious presence that can help ground the person and provide an anchor for them to cling to while their emotions may be in turmoil.
Don’t Rush to Alleviate Discomfort
Sometimes we keenly feel the discomfort of the person we are sitting with. Sometimes that discomfort even brushes up against a similar discomfort in us. Hold your ground! Often, when we rush in to alleviate the other person’s discomfort, we may prematurely remove the very thing God is using to encourage them forward.
We also run the risk of communicating to the other person that their discomfort is not welcome with you or in the space. We can unintentionally tell them that in order to be welcome and accepted, they must pretend to be ok and act “normal.” This is counterproductive to any healing work God may be trying to do in that situation.
For situations in which the other person seems to be in a state of discomfort, pray before offering consolation. It is true that they may be in need of comfort. If that is the case, then by all means be the peace-giving presence of Christ to them. But, keep in mind that many people need us to accept or validate their fears and hurts more than they need us to brush them away with “feel good” phrases that offer little honesty and authenticity.
Anticipate God Showing Up
Any time I have been open to God working in whatever way He deems best, I have never been disappointed to find He didn’t show up. He may not come when I expect, and He rarely shows up in the way I expect. But, He always shows up.
Keep your eyes out to see how He will move and when. Often, it is my greatest source of joy to see the creative ways God uses to reach the ones He loves so dearly. He handcrafts our healing in ways that are as unique as the person you sit with. He approaches us all in specific ways to which we are created to respond. Truly listening can be a joy for both the recipient and giver.