(image courtesy of Bing images)
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,