Listen With Love
By DANNY MINTON
My first full-time church job was as youth minister for a congregation in South Texas. We moved there a couple of months after learning that our adopted son, Scottie, was severely mentally disabled. It was a tough move, leaving behind friends who would be our support group through challenging times for a young married couple of five years.
The following year of our journey would bring many people into our lives whom we had never met before, moving 400 miles south. The only person we knew who lived near would be Kathy’s parents, who lived across the bay about 12 miles away. It would be tough, with new friends, new doctors, a new church, and many unknowns about the future.
Many of the members were quick to jump in and help, especially the parents of the youth group. Scottie was adopted as much by them as he was to us for the two years there. Most of the doctors were friendly and easy to work with, a few wondering why we had decided to keep him. The minister I worked alongside was warm and friendly, but he did one thing that was discouraging at the time. One day he called me into his office to talk. After the early trivial talk, he looked at me and said, “In my opinion, you ought to give Scottie back to Christian Homes and get a more normal child.” He went on to explain his opinion based solely on his viewpoint.
He meant well, and I had no ill feelings because of his comments. From his seat, he thought he was giving good sound advice. He wasn’t the first to offer advice such as this and was by far not the last. The problem that most people have when giving advice is that they are looking from the outside. They may even comment that they can be more objective and see the situation more clearly.
The problem with this reasoning is that the person on the outside can only see things by external facts. They base their viewpoint and opinions primarily on these facts. But when people are in a challenging situation, there is more involved than facts. No one on the outside can see the heart and what people are wrestling with within. They can’t feel the pain and struggles that go on in making difficult decisions. They don’t have to live with the decision one way or another.
Facts said to give him back. Facts said a “normal” child would be much better for marriage and career. Facts said there’s a long haul ahead. But facts didn’t say there’s a soul of a helpless child at stake. Facts didn’t say if you don’t keep him, he’ll end up in an institution. Facts didn’t say that you already love this child, and giving him up will be like death.
What people need more often is not advice on what to do but a listening ear. They don’t necessarily need someone saying, “You’re too close to the situation and can’t make a rational decision.” They don’t need someone telling them what to do. In the end, what they need more than opinions and advice is support for whatever decision they make. They need someone to listen to them.
Many of us feel like we need to give opinions and advice on everything, even when we don’t know the whole situation. Instead of providing opinions and advice, it is more important to walk beside someone as they make their decisions and then support them when they decide whether we agree with them or not.
Learning to listen with love is one of the essential attributes that people should strive to possess. It is when we listen with love that we can hear the heart of the individuals. When we listen with love, we can look beyond the facts and put ourselves in their place. When we listen with love, we can support, not because of cold, hard facts, but through a deep heartfelt relationship.
Listening with love is an art. It takes time to develop. It takes the willpower to keep our mouths closed long enough to hear the heart of the individual. It means simply holding back our opinion at times and holding up the individuals as they make their decisions. It means looking past the words, the rhetoric, and into the soul.
“For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their prayer,” 1 Peter 3:12
Danny Minton is Pastoral Minister and Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ