I tend to be a bad listener. I want to fix things, and I have this inner need (apparently) to help, to give answers to questions when they are asked- after all, aren’t questions put forward to gain answers? Well, not always. Sometimes, people are merely expressing anguish or voicing frustration in the ‘asking’….they aren’t really looking for a proper response, but just want a listening ear other than their own to hear their words. This is something I understand, but can’t seem to put into practice with any great measure of success.
I would say that to be an effective listener is a bit of an art- but in all truth, it is really much more of a self-discipline than art. I find that it isn’t always easy to keep silent and simply listen. My inclination is to discuss and to offer advice. It takes a particular awareness on my part, a true state of watchfulness to keep my desire (to help or advise) in check. It’s a deliberate focus of the will to purely listen and be present for another, without giving in to the idea that somehow I need to be more than a listener, more than one to whom a friend, partner, or spouse can confide.
When we listen in attentive silence, we not only show the person in need that we care enough to be fully present for them, we also communicate peace in our silence. This peace can provide a healing comfort to those who are afflicted with cares, and can foster the presence of stillness and peace within their own unsettled hearts. This is far better than any advice-unasked-for or other manner of banter that interrupts another’s sharing of troubles or concerns. Certainly, if we are asked for our advice, we should give it- the key is to refrain from jumping at the chance to offer it, from blurting out the seeming ‘gems of wisdom’ and advice that well up within our minds. But more often than not, it really is enough to just be still, fully present, and attentively listen.
For me, having that attentive ear to which I can unload is one of the blessings of the Mystery of Confession. While so many may look upon Confession as being undertaken merely out of a sense of guilt or only to seek forgiveness of sinful deeds, it is in fact one of the many medicinal cures offered by the very “hospital for the soul” (the Church of Christ) for the broken heart and afflicted spirit. We can confide our sins to our Father Confessor, unloading the burdens that weigh heavily upon us and keep us chained to our anxieties and frustrations. And in so doing, we are not only sharing them to the Confessor, but through him to the most perfect of listeners: Jesus Christ, Himself.
It goes without saying that Christ is ever present and ever attentive to our needs. In some small way, we follow his example by lending an ear, by offering ourselves in being present and attentive for another. None of us are as perfect as Christ, but as devout Christians, we do strive to be Christ-like in our words and deeds -in spite of our many failings and in spite of just how far from that goal we fall. But try we must, no matter how imperfect our earnest efforts may be. I am far from being Christ-like, and fail at the practice more than I succeed. I’m also a bad listener, as I’ve already mentioned….but as I strive to live more by Jesus Christ’s example, I’m also striving to be a better listener.