“This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
Listen to Him! What a powerful statement. Sadly, most of us do not know how to listen very well, although we like to think of ourselves as being a good listener. Listening is love in action. If we sit with someone who is grieving or afraid and we hear their words but not their pain, we aren’t showing love to them. If we hear someone’s pain and attempt to solve their problems by offering our advice because we hate to see them suffer, our love isn’t helpful. That seems counter intuitive, however it is true.
When we rush in to solve someone’s problems, we give them our wisdom. But every person has their own wisdom they must seek and find. Our wisdom may not work for them. When we rush in with advice, we are really saying, “I know more than you,” or, “I’m right, you are wrong.” When we rush in with trite sayings to soothe someone’s feelings, we are really saying “You are wrong. You shouldn’t feel this way.” Moreover, we are usually saying, “Your pain scares me, so stop feeling it.” None of these reactions are genuinely loving as they are reactions based on ourselves, not the other person.
It is the wise listener who can sit with others in moments of grief, despair, or fear, and can tolerate not knowing the answers and not try to solve the problem. A good listener can sit with the enormity of someone’s problem and feelings, and they can sit with the feelings it stirs within themselves.
Listening requires that we get comfortable with our own humanity. A good listener can handle the depths and darkness of the human experience by simply being there, quiet and caring. A good listener holds their tongue and opens their hearts. If a reply is needed at all, they can either say honestly, “Thank you for sharing that with me. I’m here for you.” Or they can ask gentle questions so that the speaker can find their own wisdom and their own answers.
Listening is true love in action. Love allows people to feel safe enough to tell us who they really are. Learning to become a good listener strengthens our recovery by gracing us with healthier relationships that are built on the vulnerability and trust that true listening cultivates and nurtures.