I had a really bad day last week. I was in a funk and I didn’t even know why. Everything rubbed me the wrong way, nothing seemed to go right and I wanted nothing more than to be left alone so that I could curl up in my bed, pull the covers up over my shoulders and just disappear into my sheets.
We've all had days like that. Maybe it's because we've lost a job or a friend or even a loved one. Perhaps we feel hopeless or scared or we're sick. Other times we don't know why but we wake up with a cloud of dispair that hangs over us and we can't seem to outrun it.
Later, when I told a friend about this horrible day she asked, “Why didn’t you call me?” I didn’t know how to answer that but it got me to thinking. Eventually it dawned on me: I didn't call her because I knew she wouldn’t really listen to me.
- Try to tell me that everything would be okay.
- Show me the bright side.
- Try to solve my problem.
- Tell me about how she handles those kinds of days.
- Give me anecdotes.
- Recite scriptures.
- Say that she’d pray for me.
None of those things are bad. There are times when I want and need one or all of those things. But sometimes, in my deepest and darkest despair, I just need someone to listen to me, to look me in the eye, put their hands on my shoulder and nod their head in understanding. We all need to be heard and understood, it's a fundamental need as vital as food, water and air.
I don't always need answers. Some problems have no answers, they just need to pass. Some pains need to be felt because they help us punch through our walls to the opportunity on the other side. Some pains bring growth, others give life.
To stop the pain is to put a halt on our moving forward so in those moments where there is no answer to be found. I simply need someone to say, “I hear you. I’m just gonna sit here and agree that this sucks!”
I’m as guilty of not listening as anyone else. I love the people in my life and hate it when they are in pain. I want to help, I want to give an answer and make it all better but I’m learning how to listen. I'm getting better at quieting my mouth and activating my brain. I want to hear everything without thinking ahead to what I’m going to say next or missing vital details.
I’m finding that people open up in amazing ways when we listen. Through their words, their thoughts are conveyed and through the cracks and spaces created in their pauses, drops of other unspoken truths leak out; things that scream of insecurities and fears and loneliness.
It’s in the obscured honesty that I find the essence of people, their humanity and vulnerability. It’s written on their faces and in the tilts of their heads. It’s in their avoidance of eye contact and a fidgeting with their hair. People speak volumes when we pause to listen and look.
It’s not an easy art to master. I want to talk and my brain naturally busies itself with trying to form ideas of things to say because I want to leave the conversation having contributed something useful but I’m trying to remember that there is power simply in my present, at being a good listener and that I can bring dignity to the people in front of me simply by finding them fascinating.