As a pastor and counsellor I have discovered what is indispensable is also non-negotiable; that in listening we have to denounce the intrusive self.
The intrusive self is never too far off; like the enemy it prowls like a lion.
Our ego and schedule would be painted all over the billboard which is our life when we had anything to do with it. Even as listeners we can be praised as listeners, and a few have honed their skills so well that they live off such praise – oh yes, I’ve caught myself in this practice many times. It is a drug. However, 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 place my agenda, ego, opinion and urges to one side. I think I have so much to give the conversation. It offers something else. People don’t ever come to me to be told what to do, even if they believe they do. They come to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying, even if they don’t realise it.
The toughest thing about listening is understanding that by listening properly we may have no impact, or worse, another person may think we gave them less than nothing and took out of them instead. Indeed, we should look to have no effect, then be surprised within ourselves when we do. Having listened, we will need to be comfortable that we didn’t meet their requirements, even if we have. When we do so we might be amazed how much more focused and effective we are for the other person… is not that our aim?
The hardest thing about listening is realising that
Our aid 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 great, 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.’
The practice of listening really isn’t about us at all. If it’s anything about us in it, our authenticity is taxed, and the person listened to has been robbed of the sort of attention we might have given them.
Listening involves a mix of unnaturally letting go of my stuff and rigorous self-discipline to concentrate on the other person.
And, listening is in being so attentive that, if there is anything we share, it is brief and for their benefit.