I’ve been involved in several conversations of late where the person I’m talking with comments on how much they want to be heard to the very end of what they have to say. They describe many memories of having to be quiet in their original families and even to hide what they think is unacceptable about them. To their surprise and sorrow, they discover in many of their adult relationships, particularly intimate ones, they still feel this strong pressure to quiet down and they note a deep longing that prods at them to find someone/anyone who will listen to them all the way to the end of what they have to say.
It’s easy to forget that listening in and of itself is a gift, even a vital service we can offer to others. Rather than thinking up a great bit of advice or responding with a similar story from our own lives, we might first offer space for others to speak all the way to the end. There’s a pressure in our culture to fill up empty spaces and to accomplish many things rapidly. We seek to be charming (meaning appealing to others) or entertaining (meaning others want to be around us for the fun of it). While these aren’t terrible pursuits, they are not efforts to listen well. Even professional clinicians admit sometimes that we feel a need to fill up our times with clients with good advice or insight that amazes our clients. All these miss the longing that so many people have to be heard, noticed, listened to all the way to the end of what they have to say.
There’s a story in the New Testament about an important man who comes to Jesus to ask him to attend to his daughter who is ill (Mark 5:32-34 J.B. Phillips). On the way to see the girl, Jesus stops to listen a woman who fearfully touches his cloak to be healed. In the Phillips translation of these verses, Jesus waits to hear the woman tell her “whole story.” Such listening is an integral part of healing.