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Like many, I suppose, I could stand to work on my listening skills.  As a pastor, I often get to hear many of the struggles, pain and uncertainties that people are going through.  Yet hearing and listening are two different things, are they not? It occurs to me this morning that I hear with my ears, but truly listen with my heart.

For me, the difference is in how deep I allow what I hear in.  For example, when my mind immediately jumps to what I will say in response, I am merely hearing what is presented.  And even though my response may be helpful, it probably will not approach the deeper core of the situation; because in using only my hearing, I fail to engage my heart.  This makes it difficult for me to empathize, because I have placed the goal of simply answering above connecting.

Recently, a family to which I have ministered for over a year suffered the loss of an adult child to a drug overdose.  This close knit and multi-generational family is devastated, as you can well imagine.  Using only my ears to hear over the previous two weeks, I have heard their pain as they attempt to make sense of a senseless loss.  Even with my best intentions, simply hearing and then responding has been of little help.  My attempts to bring comfort have yielded few results.

Last evening, as my wife and I met with several of these dear folks, God got my attention.  As the theme of pain and uncertainty was once again talked about, I began to listen instead of just hearing.  Rather than allowing my mind to work itself into a frenzy formulating a response, I kept it quiet. This allowed more of the depth of their suffering to reach my heart.

At the urging of His Spirit, I then shared with the family that I had no answer for them.  But what I did have, I offered without reservation.  Rather than offer a solution to end their pain, I simply acknowledged the depth of their despair while encouraging them to not give up on God during this time.

I realized this morning that as I listened to them last night, I could offer the best help I have available: me.  I assured them that should they call or want to see me, I would be there.  Listening, rather than merely hearing, allowed me to be open to a different approach, one that was so much more personal and I believe helpful.  As Betsy and I left them, I saw hope begin to glimmer in the midst their pain.

I would love to read any suggestions you may have on how to become a better listener should you wish to share them.

As always, my deep appreciation for taking the time to read this,

Pastor Chuck

4 thoughts on “When Your Words Don’t Help; Try Listening

  1. We are so conditioned to want to “fix” everything, but some things only God can fix. I think that glimmer of hope you saw came from their knowing that you understood – You were honest enough and had given enough thought to what they were saying to admit that you didn’t have any answers, either. Sometimes people just want to know they’re not alone. Sometimes the best response is not with words, but just to cry with them. Besides, if we act as though we do have the answers, there’s the danger of their looking to us instead of to God. I would imagine that’s especially true for a pastor.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Amen you are just like most men on earth! 🙂 We do have a tendency to always have an answer, don’t we? Problem is that our ‘self’ nature hijacks our brain and railroads our mouth into spewing stuff into a situation that doesn’t need to be there. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, trinket and a dancing hula girl doll.

    I don’t have any answer for you but I can share my experience, for what it may be worth. Admittedly this process has taken a long time and is getting better but not complete yet. Marriage has been my testing ground and after 30 years my beloved wife is still my best personal trainer in this area.

    I have found that when a problem was presented the pride in me that was rooted in ‘self’ wanted to come out. This was spurred on by that testosterone fueled sidekick we know as ‘do’. Us men are cursed and blessed to have the ‘do’ drive us like a rented mule. Surrendered to Jesus, and following Him in faith, that ‘do’ can be helpful. Fueled by ‘self’ and you might as well hose us down and call us useless.

    Listening is one of those rare characteristics us men just don’t have innately. Women do, we don’t, generally speaking of course. Like anything we have to learn how to listen and then practice, practice, practice. This is hard when you are driven to ‘do’ like most men are.
    So a key point I learned was the difference between active listening and passive listening. You describe it as hearing versus listening which is the same thing. To actively listens requires us to be able to put down our ‘self’ nature and see the other person as more important than ourselves. Easier said than done. You see those mental gymnastics your brain does to come up with an answer is really making the conversation about you and that defeats the purpose. Sure it helps your ‘self’ nature grow but it does nothing to help the other person and does not promote spirit.

    When we go into a conversation (any conversation) we need to realize that relationship is the goal, not a means to an end. The whole point is to enter into the soul of another and see the beauty of what Jesus is doing. Rarely, very, very rarely, we might be able to say something of value but most times we are to just listen and let Jesus weave Himself through the conversation. As we put the focus on the other person Jesus has this funny way of coming through what little we may, or may not, say without us knowing it. That is a trick He uses.

    Allow me to illustrate. A few years back my wife and I took ballroom dance. We were terribly afraid of the test we would have to take at the end of the course. No matter. Our drill sergeant teacher made us work, work, work. Although we were in Level 1 he deliberately gave us Level 2 and Level 3 dance steps and gave us no quarter if we screwed up. Of course we didn’t know He was doing this at the time.

    Well the test time came and we had to dance in front of world class ballroom dance judges. We made so many mistakes we just knew we failed so we went home depressed. At our next lesson they told us we had passed with flying colors. How, we asked. They then explained that by getting us to focus on the hard steps we inadvertently mastered the basics they were looking for. By putting off our focus from the test and onto the hard steps mastering the basic was done without our knowledge. I still choke up thinking about that.

    So my point is that in actively listening we aren’t the focus, the other person is because they are important. They don’t need any reason to expect our full attention. By giving them our focus God can come through our words to bless them without us (read here ‘self’ nature) getting in the way.

    Anyways that is my two bits. I hope that as you learn to listen better (and your wife is the best one to practice with 😉 ) that you find Jesus surprising you in new ways.

    Blessings,
    Homer Les
    http://www.uncompromisingfaith.ca

    Liked by 4 people

    1. “The whole point is to enter into the soul of another and see the beauty of what Jesus is doing. Rarely, very, very rarely, we might be able to say something of value but most times we are to just listen and let Jesus weave Himself through the conversation. As we put the focus on the other person Jesus has this funny way of coming through what little we may, or may not, say without us knowing it. That is a trick He uses.” I really, really like how you explained this, Homer! Thank you!

      Liked by 2 people

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