The other night I was out for dinner and drinks with some friends and I got talking to one of them about relationships; why they don’t always work, how things go wrong, what he is looking for, etc. As I was listening to him, I was praying and asking God to help me give this guy good advice. I kept praying and listening, but wasn’t getting anything. I finally came to the conclusion, that all he needed from me was for me to listen. He didn’t need my advice or my opinion on the situation, he needed to be heard. Sometimes we are so caught up in trying to tell others what we think, that we miss what they are saying to us. The book of James says, “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (1:19). It is so hard to just sit back and not talk about ourselves. We are all inherently selfish and self-centered, because we ALL have that same desire to be heard. We want to tell people about our day, or our thoughts, or our experiences, but sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is your ears.
One of the things that my husband or any of my close friends will tell you about me is that I like to watch people. Not in a creepy, stalkerish way, but I am curious about people. I like to see how people react in certain situations or how they respond to certain questions. I like to know what makes people tick or why they are the way they are. I am not a big “small-talker” because I want to get down to the nitty gritty with people and see what is really on their hearts. And one of the best ways to do that is to talk to them, after all Jesus even says in the book of Matthew, “For the mouth speaks what overflows from the heart” (12:34). If you are paying attention, you can usually tell what is on someone’s mind because it is what comes of their mouth.
In their book “Seven Desires” Mark and Debbie Laaser, talk about the seven desires of the human heart. One of those desires is to be heard. And it’s more than just someone hearing that you are talking, its that they are truly listening and hearing who you are. We all want people to know who we are. One thing that I struggle with in my life, is that people often don’t remember who I am. To me this is a slap in the face because it says I’m not memorable, and that speaks directly to that desire to be heard. I want people to remember who I am because I want to feel like I am important and that I matter. I believe that all people have that same desire. Why do you think Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have exploded so much? People want others to know what they are doing. People want to share what is going on in their lives. People want to be heard, and whether they fulfill that by getting likes, retweets, or shares, they are trying to get that need met.
The thing about these social media platforms is that they fall short in this area. Yes, we get to share photos and opinions and see our friend’s children, but it doesn’t satisfy our need to have others really know and care about us. People share a lot of the good things that are going on in their lives, or superficial things like what I’m having for dinner, but not a lot of the deep things in their heart. Even though people share just about everything else on Facebook, people are still struggling to share who they really are. Whether they are too afraid because someone has judged them and hurt them in the past or they don’t feel like anyone will care, people are often reluctant to tell others what truly is in their hearts. That’s why I feel like it is so important to listen to others. If you are looking to connect with someone or to give something to someone, give them your attention. Your true, undivided, non-judgmental attention.
It is amazing what you can find out about a person when you listen to them. You might find out that your child has been getting bullied at school, or your friend is really unhappy in their job, or your sister has been missing you since you moved away. When people feel that you care about them, they will open up and share their hearts with you. People might not open up instantly, so have some patience. Proverbs tells us, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (20:5). Now remember this was written when people used buckets and ropes to draw their water out of a well. It wasn’t an easy task nor was it fast. They didn’t have well pumps, like we do today, that did all the work for them! They had to go to the well and have patience, spend time, and spend energy to get this deep water from the well. God is relating the things in a person’s heart to drawing out water from a deep well. So keep this is mind when you are trying to get to know someone better – it might take some work and some patience.
The next time you are having dinner with your spouse, or catching lunch with a friend, or sitting next to a stranger on a plane, listen. Ask them questions and then listen to the answers. Don’t interrupt with a similar story or jump to give your advice, but give them a chance to be heard.