Isn’t it funny how something that drives you crazy about others is often times something you do all the time, or something you have done in the past? For me, I wasn’t always the best at listening. The book of James says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). But I would be the first person to blow a gasket if what I was saying was not being heard. Oh, the irony.
This old version of myself would get into arguments if the words I was conveying were not being interpreted correctly or if I was being interrupted. But I was also the person jumping to conclusions about your sentence and interrupting you or trying to finish your sentence for you. One of my biggest pet peeves was something I did to people all day long.
It took a good long fast to strip myself of this ability to not listen and yet get angry when I wasn’t heard. The truth is that this version of myself crippled my marriage for the longest time. I was unwilling to hear my wife’s true hurts and feelings, because I was unwilling to give her the time it took to truly open my ears and hear her. I would often hand her the classic Christian answers. “Have you prayed about it?” “Maybe you should spend more time in prayer.” Let’s be honest, no one wants to hear the pre-canned cliché Christian answers anymore.
We are called to be listeners first (Jam 1:19). We are called to be kind and tenderhearted (Eph 4:32). We are called to be all things to all people (1 Cor 9:22). We are called to stir one another up to love and good works (Heb 10:24). We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Gal 6:2). Why are we not doing these things? When we have legitimate problems the last thing we want is cliché answers and to feel as if we are being judged for thinking and feeling the thoughts inside our heads.
It is much easier to give a pre-canned answer like “pray about it” than it is to actually sit down and listen to someone pour out their heart. To stop and listen can take time out of our day. We would rather pass the buck, address it a quick as possible, and move on, than to do what we are called to do. James says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16).
Much the same, it is worthless if we do not take the time to bear one another’s burdens when the opportunity is presented to us. “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). Too many times in my life I have committed this sin. Knowing that I should listen to my friends, family, and even my wife, but instead chose to take the easy way out, (which let’s be honest does not solve any issues) and I would hand people the “pray about it” answers.
What I didn’t know about these pre-canned, cliché answers I was using was, they often times make the recipient feel like they are not “Christian enough” or they don’t have enough faith. These forms of answers can come across very judgmental and condemning. What they hear is, “How dare you call yourself a Christian and have these thoughts or feelings!” These condemning words will ruin any chance of further conversation at this point. The opportunity to bear one another’s burdens, be kind and tenderhearted, and be all things to all people, has passed.
It doesn’t have to be this way. If we take the time to really listen to one another without jumping to conclusions or condemning people for feeling how they feel, we can help lift the burden they are carrying. We have to remember that we are human. We are made with emotion and feeling. Sometimes those feelings get jumbled or they don’t make any sense even to the person having the emotional response. They know the truth just as we do. They know they shouldn’t be anxious. They know they shouldn’t fear. They know they should give it to God and trust. What they don’t need at that moment is a pre-canned answer. What they need is a listening ear.
What I have learned is nothing says, “I love you,” or “I truly care for you,” like a friend who truly listens. I have recently started taking more and more time to let others talk. It was a hard-fought battle but I finally learned to be quick to listen. I now allow others to complete full sentences, full thoughts, and even ask questions to get deeper into what they feel and how they are processing their thoughts.
Not all of us think the same. How I phrase a thought is much different from how my wife and children receive it. Instead of getting mad, we need to ask clarifying questions. Not only will this prevent arguments, but shows that you truly want to hear what they have to say. Let’s stray away from the cliché answers and take the time to listen to those we truly love. If we truly love one another let’s prove that love and make a difference. Let’s bear one another’s burdens and speak life into others today.