Listening with Soft Eyes

I heard someone use an intriguing expression today in a conversation. She talked about empathetic listening and used the expression “listen with soft eyes.”

If you take it literally, it sounds kind of stupid. Of course, people listen with their ears, not their eyes. But when you take into account that 90% of communication is nonverbal, it starts to make more sense.

Most of us (me emphatically included) tend to listen not to hear but to respond. All the while the other is speaking, we’re coming up with the perfect retort to win the argument or the perfect solution to fix the other’s problem.

To me, listening with soft eyes means listening with compassion. It means I don’t try to fix the way you feel– even if it seems irrational and counterproductive to me. It’s me saying, “I know what you’re going through is hard and I know you must feel scared or tired or frustrated. I’ve felt like that lots of times before.”

Real listening is an art form that takes practice. Especially if you have a flighty attention span like me. You have to train yourself to listen not to just words being spoken but to facial expressions, tone of voice, body language, etc.

I confess that while I like to think I’m a good listener, many times I am anything but. I can get distracted and lose the train of the conversation and walk away without any clue about what the other person was saying.

I think a lot of us do that. It’s happened to a lot of us. And it’s frustrating when you know you’re not being heard. Truly heard.

So one of my Second Half of 2015 Resolutions is to work on listening better. Being a better friend, husband, wife, lover, father, mother, son, daughter, or anything else starts by being a better listener.

So, I’m learning to listen with soft eyes.

 

Learning to Listen Well

image

I love serving at Room in the Inn at my church during the colder months of the year. It helps more than anything to get me out of myself and into a more others-centered mind frame.

Tonight, I went to a dinner where Dr. Ken Corr, Congregational Care Minister at Brentwood Baptist Church, spoke about how to effectively minister to the homeless. One of the takeaways for me was empathetic listening.

Empathetic listening seeks to understand what the person speaking is feeling. It’s where you step into that person’s shoes and hear the story from their side.

It’s not about giving advice or trying to fix their story to make it better. It’s not even about offering to give their story a better outcome. It’s certainly not about formulating your response (as I have so often done) so that you will come across as wiser and kinder than you really are.

For someone to tell you their story is a rare and precious gift. They are inviting you into their private world, letting you in to a place that few people have been allowed. You should value that trust and respect the gift.

But also, the gift of truly listening is equally a special gift to someone. You’re saying to that person, “You are not invisible, because I see you in your struggles and triumphs, joys and pains. You are not alone, because I am a witness to your story and I know where you’ve been and what you’ve been through.”

You earn the right to speak life and blessing into a person’s life by listening to not just their words, but the feelings behind those words. Many times, the person will be unable to understand their own feelings related to their story. You can share what their story made you feel and in that way help them understand their own emotions.

I want to be a better listener. I want to learn to listen to what you have to say, for that is one of the ways God often speaks to me. May we all learn to listen well.

Why I Am a Fan of Henri Nouwen

solitude

“In solitude we can slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and discover in the center of our own self that we are not what we can conquer, but what is given to us. In solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone. It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It’s there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received” (Henri J.M. Nouwen).

Henri Nouwen wrote that every single person ever born deals with aloneness, because every single one of us is unique and no one else will ever have our exact problems and issues and hang-ups and phobias.

He said we can either see our aloneness as a wound and thus turn it into loneliness or view it as a gift, where it becomes solitude. In solitude is where we can learn to be still and quiet and know that in truth, we are never really alone. God is with us.

Solitude makes us better people, better neighbors, better friends, better spouses, better lovers, and better disciples. We’re not clinging to each other out of a desparate need to not be lonely, but because we are finally comfortable with who we are in the times when we are alone with no noise to drown out our own thoughts.

That is my own wording of what I’ve been reading in The Only Necessary Thing, a compilation of Nouwen’s thoughts on living a prayerful life. Seriously, if you don’t read another one of my blogs, but read one of his books, I will be supremely happy. He’s that good.

That’s all for tonight. Let me know what you are reading that touches you deeply at the soul level. Maybe it’s a book that will do the same for me. And may the God of the earthquake and the God of the thunder also be the God of your silence and the God of your solitude. Amen.