It's amazing how an intruding word at the wrong time can disrupt the most compelling drama. When our hearts and souls are engaged into a story, I mean really engaged, untimely words can not only break our connection with that story, but trivialize it as well. If this is true with a good storyline in a movie, how much more with the story of our lives.
Recently, God has been teaching me that the words I speak have as much power to break trust as they do to build intimacy. They have the ability to trivialize the soul as much as speak truth to the soul. Our culture inundates us with the idea that more is better. Better too much of something than too little, right? Better a small group where everybody "shares" and talks a lot than a group that's silent. Certainly it's better to give a word of unsolicited advice than to remain silence. Not necessarily!
If you remember Job's friends you'll recall that as Job went through the "living hell" that he experienced his friends "sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because of how great his suffering was" (Job 2:13). Helpless and struck by their own ability to "fix" Job's dilemma, his friends suffer with him in silence. Seven days! When was the last time you sat silent for seven hours at the feet of someone whose soul was in anguish? Can you imagine seven days?
Those of us who have sat next to a loved one who's in the slow agonizing process of death can relate. There's nothing that we can say to help them. Only thing we can do is to be "present"....to "be there for them". It would do us well to remember that the sum of friendship isn't the amount of advice that he/she can muster up in a given situation. My experience has shown that often when we give unsolicited advice or offer quick fixes without truly listening to one another, we force the soul into hiding. Most of us resent it when after sharing a deep struggle we are facing we are "sized up" in ten minutes and given a piece of token advice. If a medical doctor casually glossed over a patient and offered a token diagnosis without truly listening to and examining his symptoms we'd be suing for malpractice! And yet, so often we offer fixes for the inner man without first listening and giving reverence to the mysteries and complexities of the human condition.
Practical suggestion: Work on truly listening to those whom God has placed in your life. Resist the urge to fix. When someone shares, afford yourself a time of silence and prayer where you can begin to swallow what has been said. This silence will allow the person who shared the space for the inner teacher, the Holy Spirit, to speak his own truth into that person's life. It will also provide you the space to think about how you might navigate the rest of the conversation.
I’m guessing that Jesus was one fantastic listener. I know this because he was so present…so available…so aware of the other. People who like to listen to themselves speak are never those things. If you live in the Hayward area and are interested in learning more effective ways to listen to another soul, my friends Steve and Susie Burns will be offering a small retreat on Christian listening. They have told me that it has transformed how they minister and counsel others. The dates are July 30-31 at Crosswoods Camp. The cost is $30. It is not an overnight retreat. But it is essential to attend both Friday evening and Saturday. Email me or contact the church office (634-4613) for more details!