Thursday, February 28, 2013

To Be Heard

Why are babies so wonderful?
They don't say a word until they're many months of age.
Maybe that's why we love them so much.
This picture shows Malachi, captive audience to Isaac's guitar playing.

In the last few weeks I've had opportunities to listen to my friends.
I figure I'm two for three.
Three times, somebody I love poured out her heart.
Twice, I heard her as she needed to be heard.
The other time, I jumped in with stories of my own, and advice.
I should know better by now.

When I joined the Tuesday morning Bible Study at my church last year,
I was dismayed to find that we weren't doing a traditional study.
Instead, we were going through an enormous book called "Listen to my Life."
I thought it would be terrible, that I would get pulled into self-pity.
I dreaded introspection.
It had been a rough seven years, and I wanted to get my mind off of my problems.

Right off the bat, the book started with listening guidelines.
These were similar to the ones that Open Door encourages every time small groups meet.
But they were so complete, so revelatory,
that I began to relax.
Maybe this morning group wouldn't be a waste of time.

And it turned out I was desperate to be heard.
In the seven years that my family had just endured,
many people had offered advice, given pep talks, interrupted,
and often failed to offer the space needed for me to finish what I was saying.

This little group of women listened.
And I listened to them.
We were timed, so the listening happened in perfect silence and was fairly distributed.

Last week, after my failure to listen to my friend, I revisited that giant book.


Here's what I learned (again): (The following is excerpted from the book by Towner and Swing)

Invite the Holy Spirit to interact with you as you listen to one another.

Give the speaker focused attention. A lack of focused attention pushes the person toward a self-consciousness that depends upon the approval of others.

Offer unconditional acceptance. This is a form of giving grace. God already knows everything the person is saying. If you find yourself judging, allow God to turn that into wonder.

No fixing, advising, or rescuing allowed. Some small groups think that offering advice is a helpful form of fellowship. Attempts to fix a person pushes their soul into hiding and leaves them feeling less capable of handling life. People just want to be heard. Allow the person to feel sadness or pain. Withhold the urge to rescue someone from their emotions.

Be comfortable with silence. It's human nature to fill silence with comments or questions. Silence allows the speaker time to listen to herself, decide what to say next, and allows the Holy Spirit space to work. Silence can usher in deeper honesty and openness to learning. It can be uncomfortable. Let the speaker know you are listening with your eyes.

"Listening this way is an act of submission as we consciously put the needs of another above our own for a time. We do not listen for our own benefit, entertainment or understanding." (Towner and Swing, Listen to my Life)

So there you have it.

I needed this reminder.

Thanks for listening.

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