Winston Churchill was once quoted as saying, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." If you haven't noticed this yet, we listen better when we sit down. It may be that it lightens the load of having to stand there to listen, or just that it changes our point of reference to each other, but there is something which changes when we sit down and really begin to get on the same level as the one we are attempting to listen to. Covey likens "really listening" to something akin to the oxygen we breathe, but equates it to some type of "emotional oxygen" which revives us deep into the very depths of our emotions. If you stop to think about it, he is pretty spot on in this observation - people need to be heard and listening to them really does "infuse" them with a new sense of emotional energy. As Churchill observed, that simple courage to "get down to each other's level" is something which we must evidently have to work on, for courage isn't always something which comes easily to us. Listening means we may face difficulties we didn't want to face, or may "feel" ill-prepared to address. It also means we will act in accordance to our beliefs - if we say we love Christ, then we must show we love one another - and we cannot possibly do this if we are too weak, or too proud to listen to one another!
People get good things for the words they say, and they are rewarded for the work they do. Fools always think their own way is best, but wise people listen to what others tell them. (Proverbs 12:14-15 ERV)
I think we have a hard time with this thing called "listening" because we think it requires us to offer advice, come up with the answers, or just be ready to infuse something "wise" into the equation. I guess this is kind of true - we are often found giving advice, or presenting some tidbit of wisdom into the matter, but if we listen without feeling this is required, we might just listen a little better. When my daughter needs to unload about a difficult day with the boys, I listen and recount the various "shout at the top of their lungs" days I endured while she and her brother were growing up. I don't offer advice, I just listen. Now, if she asks if I have any ideas on what she can do to help them play better together, that is a different matter. I can almost always tell when she is struggling to keep things together - almost at the point of wanting to just about disengage from this hard work of "mothering" two young boys. She works from home, making it even harder when the pressures of playing "referee" all day long mount. In those moments when she and I talk on my ride home, we don't have to have all the answers - we just need to listen to the hurt, frustration, fear, and downright tension which is there in the moment. Somehow, in unburdening to me, and I to her about my day, we get through it. It isn't a whole lot of "wisdom" sharing, or great counseling advice which gets us through, it is just knowing someone listened and cared enough about what we were going through to just hear you out.
If you have struggles with this listening thing, you are not alone. Whether it is our listening to God when he speaks, or just plain getting down to the level of another who just needs someone to unburden their hearts to, it is hard stuff. I want us to recognize some of the things which make it a little easier for us to listen:
- Getting on the same level as the one we are speaking with is important because it brings us into "even ground". This may not seem possible when the one we are listening to is God or unburdening one's heart to him, but trust me, he came to our level because he cares that much about us to make that very "living connection" with us! So, we would be foolish to think he doesn't get on the same level as us when we need to unburden to him! He doesn't expect us to "get up to his level" in order to unburden our hearts - but comes to ours and gets right next to us so he can hear all we have to say. It isn't that he doesn't know what is going on in our lives - because he does. It is that he knows how important it is to hear things from our perspective. In so doing, he often helps us see things from his, not by preaching to us, but by listening to us unload where we are, what we are experiencing, etc. If you haven't noticed, when we begin to truly unload our burden, we somehow see what the real issues are which have been hidden under that heavy load! He is just helping us get rid of the load so we can see the way out!
- Emotional renewal comes when we are able to just talk things out. As I indicated, there may not be much required of us to truly listen, but it is harder than we might think. It isn't that we zone out and just sit there like a zombie, because we don't connect if we do. In listening, it is actually more important for us to recharge one another's emotional energies than anything else. We need to support each other through engaged, active listening. Whenever we are more focused on giving the answer we think someone might want, or "thinking ahead" to what might be the possible solution to the person's issue, we are disengaging from active listening. We have a unique opportunity to actually appreciate the facial expressions, tone of voice, and even the body language of the one we are listening to when we are both at their same level and putting the "wise answer" out of our mind until we have heard where their heart is in the matter. We want to jump ahead to the solution - they just need us to allow them to unpack enough of the load they are carrying to actually begin to see they probably were already well aware of the answer in the first place! This listening without judging or jumping ahead is hard work, but well worth the emotional "recharge" it gives to both of us.
The next time someone just needs a listening ear, be courageous enough to both get down to their level and begin to connect to them in a way which will give them the emotional "recharge" they so desperately need. In so doing, you will reveal greater wisdom than most of your well-thought-out words of wisdom could have! Just sayin!