Jane called just as I was walking out the front door. Juggling my bag, Bible, and car keys, I answered the phone. "Hi," she said. "Have you got a minute?" I said I did, because I had told the members of my Bible study to call me anytime.
Jane was upset because her best friend, Sarah, had decided to leave the church. I knew Sarah's move stemmed from a ministry opportunity elsewhere. So instead of empathizing with her disappointment, I insisted Jane should feel glad for her friend. Then I interrupted her to tell her I had to leave.
Afterward, I felt vaguely uneasy. I had been studying Proverbs, and many of the passages I'd looked at had to do with listening and careless speech. God had been convicting me about how poorly I sometimes chose my words—as I realized I'd just done with Jane.
In response to his nudging, I purposefully began to restrain my tongue. Over time, a strange thing happened. I noticed new depth in my friendships. My husband shared deeper feelings with me. My friends sensed a real change in the way I related to them. As I listened, I gained a better understanding of their fears and joys, and my heart opened to them more deeply than before.
Proverbs helped me identify some common listening difficulties and gave me a better understanding of how listening strengthens our friendships.
An Understanding Ear
"A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions" (Proverbs 18:2). When our friends share problems or hurts, it's easy to believe the best response is immediate advice or counsel. Quick answers, however, sometimes do more harm than good, and often don't lead to a better understanding.
Psychologists have studied how the responses ...