When we moved here nine years ago, we didn’t know a single soul. Our first priority was finding a church, and we settled on one filled with younger people. I was excited for the opportunities it presented me to minister to younger women. They seemed eager to know me, and I imagined that they would want to absorb the wisdom gained from my years of experience; that they would welcome an older woman to encourage and mentor them.
After a few years of reaching out to these younger women, it finally dawned on me that they weren’t interested in my wisdom or advice. They weren’t even all that interested in getting to know me. What they wanted instead was just someone to listen to them. Time after time a woman would barely settle onto my sofa or into a restaurant booth before she started to spill her story, her hurts and her tears. Often two hours or more passed before she rose to leave and I hadn’t really had the chance to say anything.
Listening is fast becoming a lost art in this age of social media. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are platforms for speaking – for sharing our opinions or our stories – but they are not places for listening. As a result, we have become accustomed to speaking up, but have lost the reciprocal skill of carefully attending to another person.
We are losing the spaces where we connect on a deeper level, with the give-and-take of a conversation. Online spaces don’t allow us to show empathy through the comforting touch of a hand or a knowing nod. Instead, “likes” and emojis suffice. GIFs and memes often take the place of a thoughtful response.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not against social media. On the contrary, I’m grateful for the opportunities it gives us. Despite its many problems, it has provided connections among us that we wouldn’t made have without it. I’m grateful for the old friendships rekindled and new friendships created. I’m also thankful for the easy interactions these platforms invite, for the sharing of our joys and the means to support and encourage each other. The problem, though, is that too often we let these quick interactions suffice, instead of reaching out in person to connect on a deeper level. This habit leaves us relationally hungry.
We all deeply long to be valued by others. So we join the masses in cyberspace crying out to be seen and heard; to be deemed worthy of attention, however shallow or fleeting. It’s why we keep posting and scrolling…scrolling…scrolling, hoping for affirmation or some kind of validation. For all of our connectedness, we are lonelier than ever.
Perhaps that is why those young women bared their souls to me, a relative stranger. Sometimes I wonder if the huge increase in people accessing mental health services is at least partly due to not having anyone willing to truly listen.
Listening is more than taking time and initiative. It also involves skill. Things like eye contact. Asking questions. Clarifying replies. Expressing interest, and tamping down the urge to trump the other person’s story with our own. Allowing their flow of words to coalesce into discovery instead of rushing too quickly to offer advice.
True listening displays care. It bestows dignity. It makes a place in the world for a soul to rest, to ponder, and to feel valued. So many of us feel unseen and unheard. Listening well is a gift rarely bestowed and oh, so precious when offered.
We can bring healing and hope to a hurting soul just through our attentive presence. This is a gift we can give that doesn’t require us to be healthy, or highly educated, or financially sound. All it requires is a soft heart, a little time, and the willingness to still our own thoughts; to lay aside our own agendas, to reach out…and just listen.
6 thoughts on “Just Listen”
Your years of wisdom comes through your writing. Thank you.
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I must say that they certainly chose a good person to pour their heart out to, and I know your prayers for them are so valuable, even if you were not able to impart wisdom to them verbally. Also, I believe your gentle and quiet spirit , your light, your example of loving husband and children, sensibility, joy at the time to come, etc, all give counsel and practical evidence of someone who has been with Jesus. Thank you for your compassion for these younger ladies. They are blessed as are we, your readers.
What a beautiful sentiment, one I’m growing in myself. Thank you, Andrea! -Sarah
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This was beautiful. I am convinced that people don’t need their problems solved as much as they need to be heard. Thank you for this reminder stated so beautifully.
This is the first time I have read any of your articles. Clicked through challies.com. I will be back!
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Thank you, Jocelyn. So kind of you to reach out!