The other day I sat down at a coffee shop next to two seemingly normal water-drinkers. After a long day of work and school, my goal was to sit on the patio with a sweet friend (the type that fills your soul, not drains it) and catch-up over tea. For once, I was the first to arrive at the coffee shop and I began eating the most sustaining “meal” I could find. As I lathered cream cheese on my bagel, I listened to this lady next to me explain her vocation as a mixture between a personal trainer and a nutritionist. Scraping the bottom of the cream cheese container and chuckling to myself, I continued listening to their conversation. The lady continued to explain that her role is similar to a counselor, but she’s around more than once a week. (Not appreciating the stab at counselors, I defiantly washed down my carbs with a sip of my sugary beverage.) I was mildly intrigued as I continued to listen to this interesting trainer/nutritionist session, but I was still more interested in my food and phone.
Then the climax came: the trainer/nutritionist asked her client to share some of her struggles. I tried to draw my attention elsewhere at first, but then it happened: the shift in the conversation. After receiving some background information, the trainer/nutritionist asked about the client’s dad being in the hospital (which the client mentioned in her story). The client immediately burst out into tears. “Oh,” I thought, “how’s this lady going to respond now?” At first, the lady did a decent job. She leaned forward, listened attentively, and commented how hard that must be. Then, she fell flat on her face. She said, “at least . . .” I’m not even sure what she said after that, but those two words made me grimace. What could she say after that?
“At least your dad’s been in the hospital for a month, so you’ve adjusted.”
“At least the hospital has healthy food choices.”
“At least your dad’s condition is so rare that you have a really interesting story.”
“At least your job’s better now.”
Needless to say, I was glad my friend arrived shortly after that.
Yet, observing this conversation also made me grateful for the training the Lord’s giving me. I’ve used that phrase “at least” (and many equally unhelpful phrases) more times than I can count and I’m sure I’ll continue to use them. Even with a million hours of counseling training and really wise professors, there’s only so much training can do. 😉
BUT it’s pretty humbling when you see the Lord actually using an education that has been extremely daunting.
I recently realized that I have been a student for over 20 years. Some would say “we’re all students” or “we must be continual learners.” Yes, yes, yes, I completely agree…but when I say “I’ve been a student for over 20 years,” I mean that very literally. I’ve been submitting assignments, taking tests, and in a classroom (whether physically or online) for over 20 years. That’s a long time . . . but I think it’s taken me that long to actually enjoy and apply what I’m learning.
This year one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned is how to listen . . . and not just eavesdrop at a coffee shop. In counseling, listening is an extremely important skill to develop. Although counselors are often perceived as people that are paid to just nod appropriately, ask how someone’s feeling, and doodle on a clipboard, that is not true. Counselors don’t just listen. However, even if we were just being paid to listen well, that would be a skill. Listening is hard.
I’ve learned how to sit, respond, look, and probe while listening. I’ve learned how to identify, analyze, and challenge patterns . . . but I still have so much to learn about listening: to people and the Lord.
It amazes me that I still don’t get how to listen to people well, but I’m just like them. I know we’re all different, but we have a lot of similarities. So how could I ever listen to the Lord? It seems practically impossible that I could ever learn to listen to Him. After all, “my thoughts are not [His] thoughts, neither are [His] ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8 ESV). Yet, I think there are some similarities in the way we listen to others and the way we listen to the Lord.
Listening requires a probe, question, or challenge. When we come to the Lord or we come to people, we have to seek an answer. We may seek that response simply by waiting, but there has to be some sort of action to start the process.
Listening requires time. With people and with the Lord, it takes time to listen. It’s not just a one-time thing. It’s important to get a bigger picture, to learn their character, and to see their heart.
Listening requires focus. In a world of constant distraction, that means putting everything else aside for someone else. For me, that means not looking at my phone when I’m listening to others and when I’m listening to the Lord.
Listening requires response. We’ve all been talking when someone’s responses are simply “uh huh,” they’re doing something else, or they’re simply not paying any attention. The way we determine their lack of listening is by their response. I imagine that’s the way the Lord makes that determination as well, which means He’d quickly deem me a very poor listener. I’m often think “gee that’s convicting” and then close my Bible, move on, and never think about what He said to me again.