I feel like recently I have found myself, more than usual, sitting across the table from someone I love and hearing them talk about the painful journey they are currently walking through. Family trouble, inner battles, unexpected break-ups, uncertainty about jobs, bills they can’t pay, miscarriages… it’s always happening to somebody, but when it’s in your own community there is a sense of ownership and compassion in ways you didn’t know you could feel. I love being a friend that has ears to listen and advice where I can give, if any at all. Something important I have come to realize in being the friend in the listening seat is that I don’t have to have this enlightening, super spiritual, life changing advice to be a good friend and listener. In fact, what I have learned over time is that more often than not, when a friend is hurting and wanting to talk, the best thing to do is to not have “life changing” advice. Have you ever been meeting with someone, trying to tell them what you’re going through, and you can’t even finish your thoughts before they’re telling you about their own similar situation? I have TOTALLY been that listener before- it is our attempt to connect with someone in their pain, but it is honestly just selfish. I’ve learned to be quiet, ears to hear, a heart to grieve with, and empathetic. Not the “advice giver” until asked or it’s the proper time. Often, when we become the advice giver in the middle of someone’s hurt, we don’t give ourselves the time to check for selfish motives or make sure we are giving helpful advice- advice that is bitter-free. You track with that?
Picture this: You’re listening to someone’s situation they’re walking through, are reminded of a similar one in your own life that caused a wound, and immediately you respond with bitterness hoping the person confiding in you will, too. We want them to hurt and feel like we did in the middle of our own situation that was similar, because somehow that makes us feel better. Bitter people want to be bitter, and they feel better about bitterness when others stoop down to bitterness with them.
Oy. Rough. Convicted? I am.
(Guys, I am really laying it out there for you today.)
Romans tells us to be ‘promoters of peace’. (Romans 14:8) But, as a self-titled “advice giver” we can have the tendency of becoming the bitterness spreader- far from the one who pursues promoting peace.
The best thing we can do as listeners is to be still, quiet, and act like a big pillow top mattress someone gets to fall into.
In humility, there is always fruit.
I recently was on the phone with a dear friend of ten years, and she was talking to me about everything she was going through. I literally wept with her. Not only could I feel her pain, but it’s the only thing I knew to do with her and for her. I told her I didn’t know what to say or do, but that I felt her pain deeply. And know what? I have been on the other side of the table before, I have been the one crying with tears of hurt and frustration and looking for an answer from somebody. Yet, the best thing someone could do for me when I am the one in the hurt is cry with me. Sure, we will get to practical steps and the “what nows”, but I want to know in my hurt that I am not alone. I might not have it all figured out after spilling my soul out for 3 hours to someone, but I will have someone in my corner feeling my pain and cheering me on.
The Lord gave us access to empathy and compassion for a reason, these are characteristics of the Lord. We get to tap into those as believers because of the holy spirit, but only if we are quiet long enough to actually hear what he is telling us to say, feel, and do. Thus, stepping into the role of peace promoter.
What is amazing about coming into a friend’s hurt with them, too, is that in our humility, we have the ability to grow, have our own faith strengthened, and to be ministered to. If we are looking to just be the “hero” in a conversation, giving “good” advice out of selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3), we are literally fools. For real, the Bible says we are fools. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Proverbs 18:2 But if we come in knowing we don’t have all the answers, simply ears to hear and scripture to speak truth with, then we too get to learn and hear. In our phone call, I told my sweet friend that I was so thankful for her humility and honesty, because it was ministering to my soul and my own situations. Even in her deep hurt, she was exposing wounds and hurts in my own heart that needed to be addressed. How good is God that he uses our hurt, even in the midst of the mess, to speak life into others?
I encourage you, pray about being a listener and not the advice giver. I get it, I can be opinionated and am a major fixer. So, with that combo, I have to intentionally NOT say “Well, this is what you need to do.” In our humility as the listener, we can be in tune and available to receive what might actually be good advice to give rather than selfishly rooted advice or simply your personal opinion. Trust me, we are human, and our personal opinions about what people should do are never going to be right. Be quick to listen, and slow to speak and slow to anger. It is there you will find fruit and flourish in your relationships, freedom from bitterness or resentment, and joy.
Love you guys, thankful for you, and praying for you always.