There’s something special about sitting with someone and hearing their story. Whether it’s in a more formal setting like when I volunteer at the Eve Center, or sit across from someone at a coffee shop, or meet with them for spiritual direction, I’m amazed at what an impact simply listening has on the person being listened to.
I will often start off by asking what brings them here today or how has God moved in your life since we last met or tell me about how you grew up…the list of questions one can ask is endless really.
Then I sit and listen. I may interject with a question or two or ask something for clarity but mostly I just listen. I cannot tell you how many times at the end of our hour together, she will get up to leave with a bit more pep in her step and declare, I feel so much better!
And I’ve done nothing but listen, really listen, as they poured out their heart and soul, their concerns, fears, anger, confusion, doubts. It’s truly an honor to sit with someone in their story.
But I haven’t always been a good listener.
It’s 2011 when my oldest daughter came home from college and announced that she was either agnostic or atheist, she wasn’t sure which, but she certainly didn’t believe in OUR God. I wish my first reaction was to sit down and talk about it but instead I pulled the line every parent pulls when their kids jump out of the box we’ve put them in…
What are you talking about? You were not raised that way! What’s happened to my sweet girl?
We continued to discuss (argue). I would push her back in and shove the lid down as she kept turning the crank to be let out of this Jack in the Box scenario.
There is no space for different opinions in the box.
There is no room for growth in the box.
There is no place to have conversation in the box.
There is no room for grace in the box.
That’s when I realized something had to change and that something was me.
The next time she came home, I was determined to ask questions, to try to understand, to make her feel like she was being heard.
It’s something I’ve been practicing now for ten years. Not just with her but with most everyone I meet.
What is it I’ve learned over these past ten years?
People need space to wonder out loud.
People need a place to feel their feelings without judgement.
People need to be able to ask hard questions with no easy answers.
People need you to sit in hard places with them.
People need to know you hear them.
People need to know they are heard.
I needed to stop trying to fix everything.
I needed to learn to sit in the hard places with no easy answer.
I needed to wonder with them instead of acting like I had all the answers.
I needed to weep when weeping was what was needed.
I needed to listen for the purpose of understanding and not to build my own case.
I needed to learn that…
The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear. (Rumi)
It’s hard to do in this loud culture we live in today with all manner of opinion and all manner in which to express them but getting quiet so we can hear is sorely needed.
We’ve gotten so good at talking over each other, haven’t we?
The next time you find yourself in a conversation with someone who thinks differently than you, looks differently than you, believes differently than you, try getting quiet, try listening so they feel heard. Stop shoving them back in your box, let them out. Try saying, tell me more.
Let me know how it works out. It worked beautifully for me and not just with my oldest daughter. It’s a skill I’ve come to appreciate through the years as I’ve been blessed to sit with many and hear their stories.
I’ll leave you with this to think about:
Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable. (David Augsberger)
The Being series: