The Art of Listening With Love
“THANKS for listening.” Has anyone said that to you lately? What a compliment that is! A good listener is appreciated by just about everyone. By listening well, we can refresh people who are distressed or loaded down with problems. And does not being a good listener help us to enjoy people? In the Christian congregation, listening with love is an essential part of ‘considering one another to incite to love and fine works.’—Hebrews 10:24.
Many people, however, are poor listeners. They like to give advice, relate their own experiences, or present their viewpoint instead of giving a listening ear to what others have to say. Listening really is an art. How can we learn to listen with love?
A Vital Key
Jehovah is our “Grand Instructor.” (Isaiah 30:20) He can teach us much about listening. Consider how Jehovah helped the prophet Elijah. Frightened by Queen Jezebel’s threats, Elijah ran away into the wilderness and expressed a wish to die. There God’s angel spoke to him. As the prophet explained his fears, Jehovah listened and then displayed His great power. The result? No longer afraid, Elijah returned to his assignment. (1 Kings 19:2-15) Why does Jehovah take time to listen to the concerns of his servants? Because he cares for them. (1 Peter 5:7) Here is a key to becoming a good listener: Care for others, and show genuine concern for them.
When a man in Bolivia committed a serious wrong, he appreciated receiving such care from a fellow believer. The man explains: “I was then at one of the lowest points in my life. I might easily have given up trying to serve Jehovah if it hadn’t been for a brother who took time to listen to me. He didn’t say much, but knowing that he cared enough to listen really strengthened me. I didn’t need a solution; I knew what I had to do. I just needed to know that someone cared about how I felt. His listening saved me from being swallowed up by despair.”
A great Exemplar in the art of listening with love is Jesus Christ. Shortly after Jesus’ death, two of his disciples were journeying from Jerusalem to a village some seven miles [11 km] away. No doubt they were discouraged. So the resurrected Jesus Christ began walking with them. He asked carefully phrased questions to draw them out, and the disciples responded. They expressed the hopes they had entertained and the disappointment and confusion they now felt. Jesus cared for them, and his listening with love prepared the two disciples to listen. Then Jesus “interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.”—Luke 24:13-27.
Listening first is a loving way to get others to listen to us. “My parents and my in-laws began objecting to the way I was raising my children,” says a Bolivian woman. “I resented their comments, but I felt unsure of myself as a parent. About that time, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses called on me. She spoke to me about God’s promises. However, it was the way she asked my opinion that told me that this person was willing to listen. I invited her in, and soon I was explaining my problem to her. She listened with patience. She asked what I wanted for my children and how my husband felt about it. It was a relief to be with someone who was willing to try to understand me. When she began showing me what the Bible says about family life, I knew I was speaking to someone who cared about my situation.”
“Love . . . does not look for its own interests,” says the Bible. (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5) Listening with love, then, implies that we put our own interests aside. This may call for switching off the television, putting down the newspaper, or turning off the cell phone when others are speaking to us about a serious matter. Listening with love means becoming intensely interested in the other person’s thoughts. It requires that we refrain from starting to talk about ourselves by saying something like, “That reminds me of what happened to me some time ago.” While such an exchange is acceptable in a friendly conversation, we need to put personal interests aside when someone is discussing a serious problem. Genuine interest in others can be manifested in yet another way.
Listen to Discern Feelings
Companions of the man Job heard no fewer than ten of his discourses. Still, Job exclaimed: “O that I had someone listening to me!” (Job 31:35) Why? Because their listening provided no comfort. They neither cared about Job nor wanted to understand his feelings. They surely did not have fellow feeling as sympathetic listeners. But the apostle Peter counsels: “All of you be like-minded, showing fellow feeling, having brotherly affection, tenderly compassionate, humble in mind.” (1 Peter 3:8) How can we show fellow feeling? One way is by showing concern for the other person’s feelings and trying to understand them. Making such sympathetic comments as “that must have been upsetting” or “you must have felt misunderstood” is one way to show that we are concerned. Another way is to put what the person is saying in our own words, thus showing that we understood what he said. Listening with love means paying attention not only to the words but also to the emotions subtly expressed.
Robert* is an experienced full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He relates: “I became frustrated with my ministry at one point. So I asked to speak with the traveling overseer. He really listened and tried to understand my feelings. He even seemed to comprehend my fear that he would criticize me for my attitude. The brother assured me that my feelings were understandable, for he himself had experienced similar feelings. This really helped me to carry on.”
Can we listen without agreeing with what is being said? Can we say to someone that we appreciate being told how he feels? Yes. What if a young son gets into a fight at school or a teenage daughter comes home and says that she is in love? Is it not better for a parent to listen and try to understand what is going on in the mind of the youth before explaining what is proper and improper behavior?
“Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters,” says Proverbs 20:5, “but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.” If a wise and experienced person is not inclined to give unsolicited advice, we may have to draw him out to get his counsel. The situation is similar when we listen with love. It takes discernment to draw a person out. Asking questions helps, but we must be careful that our questions do not pry into private matters. It may be helpful to suggest that the one speaking start with matters he feels comfortable mentioning. For example, a wife who wants to talk about problems in her marriage may find it easier to start by talking about how she and her husband met and got married. A person who has become inactive in the Christian ministry may find it easier to begin by explaining how he learned the truth.
Listening With Love—A Challenge
Listening when someone is upset with us can be challenging, for our natural inclination is to defend ourselves. How can we meet the challenge? “An answer, when mild, turns away rage,” says Proverbs 15:1. Kindly inviting the person to talk and then patiently listening as he expresses his grievance is one way to reply with mildness.
Heated arguments often consist of two people merely repeating what they have already said. Each one feels that the other individual is not listening. How good it would be if one of them would stop and really listen! Of course, it is important to exercise self-control and express oneself in a discreet and loving way. The Bible tells us: “The one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.”—Proverbs 10:19.
The ability to listen with love does not come naturally. However, it is an art that can be learned through effort and discipline. It certainly is a skill worth acquiring. Really listening when others speak is an expression of our love. It also contributes to our happiness. How wise it is, then, to cultivate the art of listening with love!
Name has been changed.
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When listening, we must put our own interests aside
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Listening when someone is upset can be a challenge