The Sacrifice of Listening

comforting-hands

I’ve recently been reminded of how hard it is to witness someone’s pain, hardships, trials, sufferings. It’s hard being a member of their inner circle of friends and family who are aware of the suffering and not know how to handle it.

What do we say? What don’t we say? Should we share a Bible verse to encourage them? Should we send them a link to a web page? What gift can we give to make them feel better? Should we help them analyze their situation so they might have a better perspective (well, more often than not, we believe they should share OURS). I think you get the idea…

And what if their pain results in our pain? What if their fears only spread fear on to us? What if their unknown future becomes our unknown future? If we enter into their pain, it is likely going to weigh on us, mentally, emotionally, physically. There’s no easy way to sugarcoat it: sometimes loving someone becomes just plain difficult. Just reading 1 Corinthians 13 makes it obvious how far short we all fall to loving like Jesus loves or wants us to love.

The topic I want to briefly discuss is listening. Listening to the hurts, the sadness, the laments of people going through trials is tough. It’s so hard to emotionally invest in someone else’s pain by listening, by simply being present. Presence with them, listening to their laments, is a labor of love. It is a  great sacrifice of love.

But one of our worst tendencies is to think that it is our right or maybe our duty (tough love), to help them through it or over it. We tend to think they need our insight or our answers or our analysis, for their own good.

But consider Job’s friends: After Job started complaining to them about his suffering, Job’s friends basically said, “ENOUGH! Stop talking! I can’t keep listening to this! You are making me angry. In fact, your laments just make God angry.” However, interestingly enough, in the end, it was God who reprimanded these same friends for their lack of compassion and their judgmental attitudes.

Job’s friends basically said, “ENOUGH!
Stop talking! I can’t keep listening to this!”

Scripture tells us how the conversation went:

“Then Eliphaz the Temanite replied to Job:
“Will you be patient and let me say a word?
For who could keep from speaking out?
“In the past you have encouraged many people;
you have strengthened those who were weak.
Your words have supported those who were falling;
you encouraged those with shaky knees.
But now when trouble strikes, you lose heart.

You are terrified when it touches you.
Doesn’t your reverence for God give you confidence?
Doesn’t your life of integrity give you hope?” (Eliphaz- Job 4:1-6)

“Then Zophar the Naamathite replied to Job:
“2 Shouldn’t someone answer this torrent of words?
 Is a person proved innocent just by a lot of talking?
Should I remain silent while you babble on? 

When you mock God, shouldn’t someone make you ashamed?” (Zophar- Job 11:1-3)

My friend, Steve Siler, wrote a beautiful song about listening many years back. Mr. Siler knew this VERY important principle when he wrote this piece. If you visit this link, you can listen to it, too. (Scroll down the page and click on the preview link.) I pray that you will let it touch your heart. Let it sink down and marinate in your soul.

There are people out there who just want to be loved. Sometimes, they need space. Let them have it. Sometimes they will ask you for advise and counsel, but be careful… are they really asking or are they doing self-reflection and trying to sort things out on their own? Whatever the scenario, it takes real godly wisdom, spiritual discernment and restraint to know when to just sit quietly beside them when they turn to us and begin to speak. More often than not, what they really need is for us to just LISTEN and be present with them.

One of my favorite lines from the song is, “Sometimes, the greatest gift of all is presence in the front row of the sacred concert where you played the music of your soul.”

When people give you an audience in the sacred concert of their souls, practice presence instead of speaking. Hear them instead of sharing. Listen instead of breaking your uncomfortable silence. Your friends will thank you.

Listening” (Steve Siler, MusicForTheSoul.org)

“You came to me. Said you needed someone to talk to.
Had a secret that was tearing you apart.
Couldn’t look me in the eye.
Wasn’t easy for you to speak it
And share these pieces of your broken heart.
Before I knew it, I heard myself talking…
Making your story about ME.

I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t hearing you.
Too caught up in myself to put you first.
I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t with you in the moment.
You didn’t need my vain and empty words.
Silence and a shoulder, that was what was missing.
Forgive me, I wasn’t listening. 

I spoke too soon, so uncomfortable with questions.
Couldn’t stand to let your pain speak unopposed.
When you needed a nod of reassurance,
When ‘nothing’ would have been the thing to say.

I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t hearing you.
Giving you the same old answers I’ve rehearsed.
I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t with you in the moment.
Oh, you didn’t need my vain and empty words.

Sometimes, the greatest gift of all … is presence.
In the front row of the sacred concert
Where you played the music of your soul.
I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t hearing you.
I didn’t give you the attention you deserved.
I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t with you in the moment.
You didn’t need my vain and empty words.
Silence and a shoulder, that was what was missing.
Forgive me, I wasn’t listening.
Forgive me, I wasn’t listening.”

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