When I was in my early teens, I spent every summer hanging out with my best friend. We literally grew up together. We were like sisters until one summer when she chose to go with another friend to a concert that I’d planned to invite her to. Instead of going along with them and making a new friend, I allowed this perceived rejection to destroy a wonderful friendship.
Most people long for strong, healthy relationships, but wanting great relationships isn’t enough. Pursuing and building connections with others often involves risk, and requires persistent work and occasional maintenance if they are to endure.
As God’s people, we need to develop the skills of listening to people with our ears, and more importantly with our hearts, if we are to be able to understand their actual words, and also, the meaning behind their words.
Learning to Listen requires:
The Proper Attitude
A familiar reminder that’s often thrown around today says “It’s not about you.” That’s especially true when it comes to building strong relationships. Philippians 2:3 says “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Part of the reason we have so much loneliness, hurt and disconnection within the church is because we so often ignore the counsel of this verse. We harbor toxic thoughts like: How could he have done that to me? How inconsiderate of her to ignore me! Didn’t they know that would hurt me? By making others little more than elements in our lives meant only to serve our needs, such thinking devalues others and elevates ourselves. Underscoring the value of others, further on in that chapter, the apostle Paul urges the Philippians to set as their model Christ, who willingly laid aside all His rights for the sake of a relationship with us that He prized more than His own life!
A Closed Mouth
Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who constantly interrupts you to make their point? Unfortunately, the underlying message that type of person communicates is “You’re not important.” When we’re in the habit of formulating our response before a person finishes speaking, we’re not really listening to their point of view, and certainly not using spiritual sensitivity to pick up on the subtleties that might be motivating their words.
I know that many of you are very busy. Me too! Besides writing this weekly blog, I hold down a full-time job (from home), homeschool my kids, run a household, teach a women’s Bible study, volunteer at my daughter’s girls’ club, serve at my church etc, etc, so multi-tasking has become a way of life for me. But what I’ve learned is that it’s nearly impossible to multi-task and really listen to someone. The subtleties of communication require me to stop what I’m doing (especially looking at my cellphone or computer), turn toward the person and look at them. Making eye contact helps me understand them more easily, and at the same time, tells the other person that they are important and assures them their message is getting through.
Holding On & Letting Go
I believe the secret to cultivating and maintaining strong relationships is learning how to let go and how to hold on. That is, we need to learn how to let go of hurt, bitterness, grudges, and self-centeredness, while holding onto love, understanding, and the value of people at the same time. Just as in the case of my childhood friend, we often get it exactly backwards. We hold onto grudges and superficial offenses, and in doing so, we let go of love. When we argue and quarrel (as will happen), we can easily lose track of what’s really important. This is why it’s so it’s crucial to reiterate to ourselves the worth and value of the other person even while we’re in the midst of a disagreement. If we can train ourselves to think “She/He is important to me. I want to understand,” we’ll more easily take steps to set aside our need to be heard in order to preserve the relationship.