For who listens to us in all the world,
whether he be friend or teacher,
brother or father or mother,
sister or neighbor,
son or ruler or servant?
Does he listen,
or our husbands or wives,
those who are dearest to us?
Do the stars listen,
when we turn despairingly from man,
or the great winds,
or the seas or the mountains?
To whom can any man say — Here I am!
Behold me in my nakedness,
my wounds, my secret grief,
my despair, my betrayal, my pain,
my tongue which cannot express my sorrow,
my terror, my abandonment.
Listen to me for a day — an hour! — a moment!
lest I expire in my terrible wilderness,
my lonely silence!
O God, is there no one to listen?
Is there no one to listen? you ask.
there is one who listens,
who will always listen.
Hasten to him, my friend!
He waits on the hill for you.
For you, alone.
While I am not sure who he meant was waiting on the hill to listen, with his words, Seneca captured the timeless human longing to be heard. I read a book this weekend called The Listener by Taylor Caldwell that addressed this subject.
There is a reason that psychiatrists, analysts–counselors of every stripe–have a thriving field. At bottom, they offer the service of listening. Hurting people are willing to pay someone to sit and listen to them share all that Seneca so aptly described. In our crazed world, paying someone to sit and listen is often the only way to gain an ear.
Some are blessed with a listener in their life. I have someone like this who sits and listens, non-judgmentally. It is a healing thing to open up and share your heart without fear that someone will no longer love/like you if you tell them your thoughts. So many times, I have found myself strengthened for having been heard. I have found faulty thinking clarified without the listener ever saying a word. Even if no solutions are proffered by the listener, just having an ear for a few minutes is a gift. It reminds me of the lines in the song, You Raise Me Up.
When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.
It takes trust in the listener to open up. If you trust the wrong person, what is in your heart can be “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,” as Kipling put it. But when you find a trustworthy person, it is one of life’s precious gifts.
To have the trust of someone who needs to unburden is also a gift. It is so easy to betray a confidence, even without intending to. Trust is easily shattered, and difficult, if not impossible, to restore. Consider that the other party is handing over the pearls of their heart, and guard them well.
Being a good listener does not come easily to many. My husband is a wonderful conversationalist because he listens and asks questions. People like talking with him because he is genuinely interested in what is being said. Some, however, don’t return the favor. One of my pet peeves is when people’s eyes are roaming a room while you’re talking with them. They’re scoping out the next social contacts while you’re trying to say something. I usually give up when a conversation gets to that point. Our body language tells others exactly how interested we are in them.
Human souls get lost in the digital noise and chronic busyness of our culture. When we take the time to listen, really listen, to someone else, we show them that they matter, that their thoughts are important also. I think of children, especially, who need such listening today more than ever.
Our merciful God listens to us, God, the ultimate Listener. Thankfully, He knows the words of our hearts even when we can’t frame the words. When we have nobody else who can or will listen to our pain, God will, and sometimes, He alone can do something about what we suffer.