To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you. — Fr. Henri Nouwen
In the last week or so, I have come across so much pain and struggle in others’ lives. As I reflected on this during my prayer time last evening, I was overcome by a sense of gratitude for the people who entrusted to me their stories of hardship, doubt, fear, pain. And I felt similar gratitude for all those who listen to me. There is such an extraordinary intimacy that develops when someone allows you into their suffering. Such a vulnerability.
I am completely convinced of what a priest therapist friend of mine once said to me:
If you want to know what someone is struggling with, all you have to do is say, ‘How are you?’, mean it, patiently listen, and then the flood gates will fling wide open. If you scratch even a little beneath the surface by lending an ear, you’ll know Thoreau was exactly right when he said, ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’
He also said to me,
The real crisis in mental health, in my opinion, is the disappearance of a culture that supports the time and patience required for therapeutic listening. Being heard is very healing. People are so distracted by technology, and have such short attention spans that they don’t make time to just be with someone to listen and talk.
I think the Christian revolution nowadays could simply be taking time to listen to someone, every day. Really listen. You don’t need a degree in psychotherapy to help someone work out their issues. Common sense advice, confidentiality, patient caring. And pray with them. Just an Our Father or Hail Mary. Nothing elaborate.
I’d say well over half the people who come to me for help just needed me to listen with love and attention. No one else will.
Especially parents need to listen to their children, let them talk it out — whatever ‘it’ is. Listening to your child often, especially at night, develops deep bonds of trust that will pay large dividends later in life. The same is true for spouses.
The church should be a community where we learn and practice listening to God and each other. The world should say of us, “See how they listen to one another!”
I believe God’s a helluva good listener and loves to be listened to, if the Bible is any indication. So we’re made in His image, so it all makes sense.
I tell couples or parents, pull out the earbuds, put down the phone, turn off the computer or TV and just talk. Walk and talk, it’s a great combo.
God wants to heal us, but only through others. Like Augustine’s description of heaven as “one Christ loving himself,” we live heaven now when we let Jesus love others through us and let Jesus love us through others. God is tricky — everything he does is intended to bring us together.
Next time you ask someone, “How are you?”, and mean it, get ready to meet Jesus.
Based on the prayer, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”