Being a good listener is something I’ve always taken for granted. I’ve never really been concerned about it; I just figured I was one. I mean, I love it when people share their problems with me because then, I get to tell them what to do. I get to fix them.
But when I read that too many people listen to respond, it hit me like a ton of bricks: That is exactly what I do.
The person who most often falls victim to my chronic need to advise is, naturally, my dear hubby. He’s like most people, myself included, in that sometimes, he just wants to be heard.
But when he’s talking about a problem he’s having, I just want to fix it. As he talks, my brain goes right to how I can take care of the problem. And if I believe the problem lies in part in his spiritual walk, then I’m extra eager to ‘set him straight.’
I seem to be under the misunderstanding that I alone am responsible for everyone else’s walk with the Lord. If there’s a problem of any kind, it’s on me to fix it. That’s right, little ol’ me, chief advisor to the Holy Spirit.
But I’ve recently discovered something amazing: I’m here to better other people’s lives, not perfect them. And very often, I can best do that by listening to understand, not to advise.
Take last week for example. Hubby was sharing a problem with me that we’d discussed a few times before. As I listened, my brain switched to ‘Fourth Member of the Holy Trinity’ mode and I started analyzing his words to form the best, most spiritually helpful reply.
When he was done, the first, rather diplomatic, words out of my mouth were, “I completely understand.” But before I could launch into my sermon, I heard this deep sigh of relief and the reply from my husband of, “Thank you for understanding.”
Well, what could I say to that?! That is not the open door through which march the sermons of helpfulness. My words died on my tongue and I felt like a heel. Then, to add shock to my shame, what should spout forth from my husband’s mouth but the very words I was poised to correct him with!
That was when I had the startling revelation that the Holy Spirit was at work in his life and I should be praying for him rather than preaching at him.
Which got me to thinking; how disheartening would it be if I poured my heart out in prayer just to hear from the Lord, “Leah, we’ve been over this before. Come on now, you’re doing so many things wrong.”
So, I should just keep my trap shut, yes? No. Because oftentimes, what I hear from God in prayer is a loving correction. Because oftentimes, people talk out their problems with me because they’re looking for a word of encouragement or advice. Because sometimes, I actually listen to the Holy Spirit instead of advising Him and He gives me a revelation meant to encourage someone. The key is to listen, to the Holy Spirit and to people.
So don’t be like me. Don’t take being a good listener for granted while sitting poised to answer with judgment and condescension. Don’t assume, like me, that if everyone would just listen to you, the world would soon see a blessed change.
Sure, there are plenty of opportunities to speak up. But in a world so desperate to be understood, I think we could all stand to be better listeners.