By Jacqueline J. Holness
Aside from the summer months, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year” to me. Although the sky tends to be the dreariest shade of gray and the bare trees are a visual testament to nature’s hibernation during this season, I don’t notice them as much because of the warm glow of multicolored Christmas lights, jolly music playing day and night, the smell of sugary treats, the sport of Christmas shopping, “good will toward men,” and the promise of Imanuel. I could go on and on!
An Answer to Every Problem?
For some people, however, Christmas is the most stressful time of the year—from searching for the perfect gift to not having a Christmas family experience worthy of a Hallmark commercial. Thankfully, I have a wonderful family; but I must admit I find myself agonizing over the perfect material baubles to bestow on associates, coworkers, friends, and family members.
Recently I was reminded that one of the best gifts you can give others is simply to listen to them without giving advice or attempting to minimize their pain.
From Dr. Phil’s daily prescriptions to the weekly wisdom of your favorite minister, there is a tendency in our culture to believe there is an answer to every problem; but that’s simply not the case.
That’s one reason I love Job’s story. When Job’s three friends came to see him after he lost everything, “They sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was” (Job 2:13). They could say nothing to explain to him why his life suddenly imploded. Just their presence was gift enough.
Apparently they should have stopped there. Eventually his friends accused Job of sinning, as they could not fathom why God allowed their godly friend to suffer without explanation. Near the end of the story, God rebuked Job’s friends for their accusations. It turns out their first attempt to comfort him was the best course of action after all.
A Time to Be Silent
In Ecclesiastes 3 we are told there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” The tricky part is determining when is the right time to be silent and the right time to speak. In Jen Weigel’s Chicago Tribune article, “Can You Listen Without Offering Advice: How Not Coming Up With a Solution Might Be the Best Solution,” Michael Rooni, author of the book, Attractive Communication: 300 Ways to Make Communication More Attractive, (Publish International LLC, 2012) explained his term “no-solution listening.” He writes,
Sometimes people simply want to release hurtful emotions and get something off their chest. And for them communication is not necessarily about having their husband or wife or coworker come up with a solution. They just want to be heard and want to be understood because they’re hurting inside.
Rooni also said people will let you know when they want more than a listening ear. “When someone wants a solution they will say. ‘Do you have any ideas or suggestions?’ They will typically communicate what it is that they want if we actually ask them.”
Dick Fetzer, author of Please Listen to Me! A Christian’s Guide to Reflective Listening (WinePress Publishing 2008) describes how reflective listening can improve our relationships with others. Reflective listening involves three components: “setting aside our own needs, opinions, experiences, emotions and advice so that we can truly focus on the person we are listening to;” “releas[ing] ourselves from the responsibility of trying to have an answer for the person to whom we are listening;” and realizing that “when we listen to someone it does not mean that we have to agree with that person’s ideas or opinions.” He quoted James 1:19 where we are admonished to be quick to listen but slow to speak.
At this time of the year with the rampant materialization of Christmas, it is easy to forget that sometimes the best gift we can give others is to be present and to listen. As we rush around this month buying our gifts, hanging up our Christmas lights, rehearsing Christmas pageants, and so on, I hope we remember the best part of Christmas is that God is actually with us and that we can be there for those around us as well.
Jacqueline J. Holness, a member of Central Christian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, is a correspondent for Courthouse News Service,
an online, national news service for attorneys. Contact Jacqueline at afterthealtarcall.com.