From time to time, esteemed teacher of pastoral care Wayne Oates would affirm the restoring power of genuine listening by saying something like: “I don’t know much about healing by the laying on of hands, but, over and over again, I’ve seen people healed by the laying on of ears.” We all long to be known, welcomed, and loved. We need to have our dignity respected and our experience validated. To thrive and flourish, we need at least one person to hear us patiently and tenderly, to celebrate who we are and what we achieve, and to stay in the room with us when we admit our shame and failures.
Soon after Job’s harrowing losses, as he sits amid the ashes of grief and speaks only in bursts of lamentation, three of his friends come to console and comfort him (v. 11). When they first see him, Job is so changed by his suffering that they don’t recognize him (v. 12). Like friends who shave their heads to identify with a buddy who’s enduring chemotherapy, they tear their clothes as Job has torn his, and add their voices to his laments (v. 12).
The best thing they do is sit with him on the ground for a week without saying a word (v. 13). We don’t know whether or not Job speaks while they are silent. Maybe he tells his story and talks about his pain. Maybe not. We do know that when his friends eventually speak, they are harsh with Job. At the outset, though, they give him the priceless gifts of shared silence and unhurried listening.
When I’ve been most disheartened, advice didn’t help. Neither did heroic cancer-survivor stories and sentimental faith-slogans. What helped and healed were the ways people told me, often without saying a word: “I’m with you. I trust that God is, too. I’m listening.”
Who are the people in your circle of relationships who would feel encouraged and renewed by your listening lovingly to them?
Gentle and listening God, open my ears and heart to the stories that others yearn to tell. Amen.