Friday, April 13, 2018

The hardest thing about listening

Photo by Anna Vander Stel on Unsplash

As a pastor and counsellor I’ve found what is indispensable is also non-negotiable; that in listening we must denounce the intrusive self.
The intrusive self is never too far away; like the enemy it prowls like a lion.
Our ego and agenda would be painted all over the billboard that is our life if we had anything to do with it. Even as listeners we can be praised as listeners, and some have honed their skills so well that they live off such praise — oh yes, I’ve caught myself in this practice many times. It’s a drug. But like all drugs it masks authenticity, and it robs interactions of what they could be.
Our listening must be more.
The hardest thing about listening is having to consciously put my agenda, ego, opinion and urges to one side. I think I have so much to offer the conversation. But listening is about something more. It offers something else. People don’t ever come to me to be told what to do, even if they think they do. They come to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, even if they don’t realise it.
The hardest thing about listening is understanding that by listening properly we may have no impact, or worse, the other person may think we gave them less than nothing and even took from them instead. Indeed, we should look to have no impact, then be surprised within ourselves when we do. Having listened, we need to be comfortable that we didn’t meet their needs, even if we have. When we do this we may be surprised how much more focused and effective we are for the other person… isn’t that our aim?
The hardest thing about listening is realising that
our help helps most when it appears to help least.
Put another way, listening involves the vulnerability of autonomous self-sacrifice — not a sacrifice that is veiled in making us look good, but a sacrifice that comes from knowing and accepting, ‘I offer you nothing but my interest in you… plain and simple… not my advice, not my opinion, not my performance, nor my practised and polished benevolence.’ Really what I’m saying is, ‘I offer you my wholehearted mindfulness.’
The practice of listening really isn’t about us at all. If it has anything about us in it, our authenticity is taxed, and the person listened to has been robbed of the sort of attention we could have given them.
Listening involves a mix of lovingly letting go of my stuff and rigorous self-discipline to focus on the other person.
And still, listening is in being so attentive that, if there is anything we share, it is brief and for their benefit.

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