The Lost Art of Listening

Nicolai Berntsen

PC: Nicolai Berntsen

“Know this, my beloved brothers and sisters: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” James 1:19.

Have you ever had one of those falling dreams that you don’t know if you’re going up or down and you wake up? Or a dream where you’re running away from a bad guy and your feet feel heavy, like you’re running through sludge?

I had a dream like one of these the other night, but instead of falling or running I was screaming for help. My foot was caught in a grate on the sidewalk, it was a crowded city street, but no one heard me call for help. And the louder I called, the faster people walked by and ignored the girl standing still in the middle of it all. To me, I was in great distress, to everyone walking past, I was invisible.

When I woke up, I realized how true that dream is to some things in life I’ve been going through recently.

About three weeks ago, a number of issues came up at work, with family, and in my personal life that I tried to walk through and figure out on my own. But the layers of “stuff”- emotional ups and downs to go along with the relational ups and downs became too much, so I realized it was time to “phone a friend.”

More than once, as I opened up to what’s been going on in my life, not two sentences have been out of my mouth that friends tried offering advice on what to do.

“Have you thought of…” “Maybe you should just change…” “Just try…”

My initial thoughts in response were, “Okay, friends, gee thanks for listening. If you would listen, I could tell you that I have tried, thought of, and changed lots of those things. Let me just tell you the story please.”

It was almost more disappointing to talk to friends, when instead of advice I really just wanted to be heard. I wanted to get my story off of my chest with how life seemed to be momentarily snowballing down a hill, far and fast away from me.

Don’t get me wrong. I love each of my friends dearly. Their advice was sweet and they wanted to be helpful. And I know I’ve been in their shoes, jumping in with advice and explanations to my girlfriends without really hearing why they are even upset.

I think we hate seeing the people we love suffer, however big or small, and we just want to fix it for them and make it all go away, so we help manage their problem with answers instead of trying to understand the person in front of us.

But, maybe instead of fixing our friends and loved ones problems, the best thing we can do is to simply be there and listen to them. Let them talk out the latest issue and life dilemma. Let them tell their story.

The Bible calls us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” in James, as well as a plethora of other passages and verses throughout Proverbs that speak of silence being wiser than talking.

On Facebook, I see the opposite of listening when it comes to political rants. You can look up the story of the gorilla with the boy at the zoo, the shooting in Orlando, and most recently the alligator that attacked the boy in shallow water at a Disney resort. All of which are heart breaking sad stories that should be grieved and talked about.

But when each of those events turned into a political rant in a matter of hours, blaming, finger pointing, arguments breaking out online… I wonder did anyone actually get the full story before becoming angry and telling their opinion of what to do?

Did anyone hear the parents of the boys? Did anyone listen to some of the family members speaking about their loved ones killed in the shooting? Is anyone willing to seek out another opinion besides their own about what should be done?

Literally I have seen some of the most hateful responses on Facebook, by people I know, went to college, or even to weddings with over the years and I’m over here thinking… people you aren’t that much older than me, and don’t really have that much more life experience than I do… what makes it your right to judge and point fingers about a lot of what is going on. The name calling. The divisions… Lets ask some questions first and educate ourselves and listen to the different perspectives. Let’s become enlightened to the thoughts and religious beliefs, the law, the history, the culture, the grace required to be a parent when bad things happen to their children, the humorous Buzz Feed posts, and the videos and media that try to capture snippets of what is going on.

It’s easy to want to talk, fix the problem as we see it, and make divisions of what “should have happened” in personal and public events in life, but it is better to listen.

From experience of being on both sides of the spectrum, listen to your friends; give them your ear and attention. It’s a rare occasion to have the undivided attention of loved ones these days what with media and technology filling up our space and time.

Who knows? Maybe listening to a friend’s story will allow you to open up with your own story that could be vulnerable and healing in a deeper way than just giving trite advice to the momentary problems of life.

So I encourage you- smile, hug, love on, and ask questions of the people in your circle of influence; let’s try to recapture the lost Art of Listening.

*This post was originally written for Wonderfully Made and has been edited for Written Jewels


2 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Listening

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