This post is written to link with Five Minute Friday: write for five minutes on a one-word prompt. The prompt today is “other.”
The girl was angry.
Angry with everyone around her, angry with life, angry with God, even though she couldn’t see how he could really exist. If he did, why did he allow people to suffer like this? Why didn’t he step in and do something?
She was only fourteen and she had been through too much. There was no point in trying to defend God or argue a point while she was in this kind of mood. All we could do was listen as the rage and sorrow poured out of her in turn- one moment shouting and swearing as though we were the enemy, the next seeking comfort as she sobbed in pain.
We agreed with her that life was unfair, that bad things happen to good people, and that we don’t understand why. We encouraged her that it was ok to be honest about what she was thinking and feeling. We couldn’t fix all her problems, but we could listen and we could care.
And eventually, once she had let it all out, we were able to speak a few words pointing her to the hope we have in Jesus, even in the midst of suffering.
It was only one conversation. It didn’t change the world, or encourage her to follow Jesus, but it did change something. Later that day the girl approached me to say thank you, which amazed me in itself, but what was even more amazing was the sense of peace there was about her. Nothing had changed in her situation, but she had been heard and she knew people cared, and somehow that had been enough to make a difference.
That is one of the experiences that taught me the power of listening- especially of listening to people who think differently from us- listening to the other side of the story, the other side of the argument, to other views than our own.
It can be tempting to think that the power is in talking, in arguing, in attempting to persuade, and there is definitely a time to talk, but I think, first and more importantly, there is a time to listen, a time to try to understand, a time to humbly admit that we don’t have all the right answers, and a time to show compassion.
One danger, if we jump straight into talking, is that we start to see the person as the enemy, as being on “the other side,” and the conversation becomes about winning the argument, whereas, really, we’re on the same side. No matter how difficult the person may be, they are not the enemy, “for we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT)
And who knows? By listening we may learn something new ourselves or have our own perspective challenged!
We may not end in agreement, but at least by listening we can show love and respect, and I suspect that may be more powerful than we often imagine.
The power of listening, and how to listen well is a topic I’m keen to explore some more. At the moment I’m reading a book called “The Listening Life” by Adam McHugh which I’m finding really helpful so far. I’m also going to be taking part in a book club at my friend Linda’s blog where we’ll be going through the book over the next 5 or 6 weeks. You’d be very welcome if you’d like to join us, and you can find out more here.