I made a decision some time ago that I would rather be interested than interesting.
My friend made this comment in passing, but I immediately recognized it as one of those bombshells of wisdom that I wanted to hold onto.
As I walked to my car I asked myself the obvious question, “Which of those do I strive to be,” and maybe uttered an “Ugh” as the answer clunked me on the head.
The truth is that most of us could learn from my girlfriend’s example…because we all have room to improve our listening skills. We can find additional motivation to do so once we discover that
Listening is the true love language.
An Indulgent Gift
I took a class at our church a few years back to learn how to be a mentor to others who were in need of support. The multi-week training could be boiled down to a single idea:
We all have a deep need to be heard.
More than counsel, advice, opinions or remonstration, we are desperately seeking someone capable of and interested in hearing our hearts, and affirming that what we’re going through matters.
“It feels like going to the spa,” one of the women in my mentoring class reflected. “Even when you’re with your girlfriends, they often are waiting for you to finish your story so they can tell you theirs.”
This is a significant and powerful truth.
Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue and let anger straggle along in the rear.
James 1:19 (MSG)
Unfortunately, when my kids or a close friend come to me with a problem they are more likely to receive a barrage of “options” than the gift of open ears. A walking self-help section, all my choices tend to muddy rather than clarify the waters through which they’re wading.
Listening as an Act of Love
As I watch my friend use her spiritual gift of listening to minister to others I wonder how often I’ve missed the opportunity to similarly bless someone in my life.
It’s one of simplest and richest ways to pour out Christ’s love, dying to self by putting my phone away, resisting the urge to check the clock and giving someone I care about the gift of presence.
I expect by now we can agree, based on personal experience, that feeling heard is a pretty wonderful thing.
Here are a few easy steps I’ve seen modeled, but have yet to master, to make this our best gift during this upcoming season of giving:
- Take a real interest. My girlfriend does an exceptional job remembering things I mention in passing. I’ll get a text like, “How did that appointment go for your daughter?” or “How was your visit with your son?” For me, who can scarcely keep track of my own calendar, let alone someone else’s, I am consistently surprised and touched by her thoughtfulness.
- Go deeper. My friend also asks questions that invite me to share more than the facts of my day. She asks how I felt about what I did or what someone said to me. And everything in her body language says she genuinely cares about my answer.
- Reflect. This is especially helpful when exploring hurt and pain, but simply articulating back to someone what you heard them say not only ensures that you’re reading the heart issues correctly, but validates that you really are listening. It feels really good to receive this type of reflective feedback.
- Validate. Validating does not mean affirming everything a person thinks and feels. That’s neither authentic nor helpful. But, in matters of the heart it is helpful to have some of what you feel affirmed. When you’re the listener find a portion of what was said that you can validate.
As with most good gifts, I expect we’ll discover that in listening too it is more blessed to give than to receive.
A wise man will hear and increase in learning,