Talent is an ability someone is naturally blessed with. Skill is an ability someone has worked for. Listening is a skill, not a talent. Genuinely listening to someone is not something we naturally do, but a skill we must learn. I am not talking about the type of listening that follows with your “life-changing” words of advice, or the type of listening that thinks about what you’re going to say while they talk. Many times, when we listen to people, we hear them but do not listen. In other words, the sound coming out of their mouth is heard by us, but we do not listen to those words with attentive ears and compassionate hearts. Instead, while others talk, we like to think about what we’re doing the rest of the day, what we’re going to eat for lunch, or what we can say to change their life. In a world where we believe our voice matters most, how can we genuinely and effectively listen to others?
This may sound crazy to you, but bear with me. Junior high was some of the most emotionally difficult times in my life. I was bullied and felt alone. It was a time in my life where my emotional bank account felt depleted. Other than my parents, you know who helped me out the most? Remember, this may sound crazy, but my dog Molly helped me out more than most people did.
There would be days I came home full of tears ready to fall down my face. I would go to my room and lay on the floor with a burdened heart. My dog Molly would come storming into the room with her tail wagging fast. She would come over to me, sit down (sometimes licking my face), and spend time with me. She is a dog so she couldn’t converse with me, yet even though she couldn’t utter a word; her actions spoke louder than words ever could. I knew she loved me and cared for me. No matter how inconsistent my world was, her love was consistent.
You know what she did that most people don’t? She listened to me. I could talk to her and all she would do is stay by my side. She couldn’t tell me that “time heals everything,” “you should get over it,” “you will be fine,” “other people have it worse,” “life isn’t fair,” “stop feeling sorry for yourself,” etc. Rather, her actions said “I love you, am here for you, and will be with you during this hard time.” This filled up my emotional bank account more than words could. We can learn a lot from Molly!
When someone needs to talk to you, there is a reason they are doing so. Sometimes they want advice and direction, other times they want to be listened to and validated. They want to know that what they are feeling is okay and in the midst of those feelings they are loved and cared for. So next time someone expresses their heart to you, listen to them, validate them, encourage them, love them, and remind them that you are for them and with them through anything. Sometimes we don’t need advice, but rather someone to sit next to us and remind us we’re not alone. “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).