Spiritual conversation is all about someone asking a good question and waiting patiently for you to sort through your thoughts and emotions, and then asking another question that finally helps you say what you need to say. An important element of the community of believers is the ability to simply listen and be with what is, without having to fix, give advice, or solve your problems. Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is listen and be present with someone in their pain uncertainty.
Have you ever been in a situation where what you were going through was so painful or awful, or so wonderful you couldn’t find the words to be able to speak? Did you find it a blessing to be around those who knew how to stand with you and just be with you not having to say anything or give advice that missed the point?
As listeners, we often experience a great temptation to rush in and fill the emptiness with words of advice, well-meaning attempts at comfort, or filler words that attempt to relieve the awkwardness we are feeling. It is hard to watch someone in pain and we want to somehow alleviate it or bring some sort of meaning and comfort. Unfortunately, this is rarely what the person needs when they are in pain and upheaval.
Our community continues to deepen as we ask good questions, learn how to stand still, and wait with one another in the midst of shattered hopes and dreams and the things that are unfixable. There is a quality of listening and being together with Jesus in the stuff of our lives that can open us to fresh perspectives, true spiritual insight, and the increased ability to let go and lean into the situation just as it is.
The simple presence of another human being who can be with us in our pain is how God ministers to us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, Life Together, says, “The first service one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them…It is God’s love to us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear…Christians so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.”
It is helpful for us to remember that Bonhoeffer’s observations come from suffering together with other Christian brothers in a German concentration camp. This was a place where easy answers would not do, but the greatest service given to one another was to truly listen. He drives the point home when he says, “He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too…One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it.”
Spiritual companionship is very different from what we usually experience. It involves being present to the person we are listening to, but even more important it involves being present to God on the other person’s behalf. We are listening for what God’s desire for that person might be, not what our best advice might be or how we can be most helpful.
How do you respond to the thought that listening can be a greater service than speaking? How often do you serve someone in this way? I look forward to hearing from you leave a comment.