A while back, I read a book morbidly titled, What the Dying Want, which documented the desires of dying hospital patients. While all of the patients only had a few weeks or months to live, their number one desire, above food, water, and comfort, was simply to be heard. Many of them had lived full lives, yet regretted how few people took the time to listen to what delights and concerns rested in their hearts.
After reading the book, I started to notice how difficult effective listening could be. While not insanely busy, I do like to jump from project to project, website to email, TV show to video game, without pausing or taking time to talk to people without an agenda. If I do end up in a conversation, or on Facebook, I am quick to blurt out new developments on my backyard pond or story ideas rolling around in my brain.
Of course, it’s good to share information with others, but when I focus too much on what I have to say, I can invariably act as if I am the star of all conversations, and everyone else is an applauding audience. Sadly, I notice myself doing this more and more in this text/tweet/blog world. A me-first approach to interacting with others might be the world’s way of communicating, but it’s not God-honoring.
…consider others better than yourselves. Philippians 2:3-4
This verse should make my interactions with others do an 180° turn. When I recognize that I am not the star of the show and realize that what someone else is saying is more important than what’s buzzing in my head, I can stop, and listen. As I focus my attention on someone else, my ‘self,’ ego, or whatever you want to call it, completely evaporates. I lose myself in what someone else is saying, the conversation takes off, and I see the other person’s eyes light up as they realize someone is listening.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak. James 1:19
While listening, it can be tempting to jump in and offer advice or relate the conversation to my experience. However, when I consider that what someone is saying is more important than what I have to say, I become quicker to listen and slower to speak. After all, if the other person is dealing with a complicated issue, he or she has likely thought of a myriad of solutions. The other person may only want someone to hear about their burdens and struggles. Another reason it can be tempting to give advice is that hearing about suffering makes me uncomfortable. Giving advice allows me to feel as if I’m doing something to help. I don’t want just to feel the pain of someone else’s situation. However, Scripture tells us to embrace the suffering of others.
Bear with one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2
I’ve had periods in my life when I was the one with a burdened heart. Whether it was a relationship issue or a possible job loss, the circumstances weighed me down. When I was able to talk to someone who listened and understood what I was going through, I felt a million times better, because that person helped bear the burden of my pain. The circumstance was still there, but the worry about it was lifted.
Listening is one way that we can clearly show honor to others above ourselves. When we listen to people we follow Scripture and relieve others’ burdens. Although it’s not easy and not congruent with the world’s way of interacting, listening to each other is an excellent way to show Christ-like love and to give glory to God.