These young ladies are so precious to me. Every Thursday night they get in their cars and drive to our farm where we sit and get real. No masks, no pretensions, no judging—just truth and encouragement and growing together.
Two still in college, one graduated and passionate about social justice issues, three working with children, one a pharmacy tech, one just back from loving orphans in Kenya where the rest of her family remains. All different coming together for one purpose—to grow up in God—to learn how to live life to the fullest—to learn to love well.
Last night we talked about suffering. How do we love people who are suffering? It starts by entering another’s experience. That’s what Jesus did. God saw our suffering and Jesus became flesh. He entered our experience. Scripture says He was a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. (Isaiah 53:3) He carried our sorrows. (Isaiah 53:4)
So how can we be Christ-like to those who suffer? We get lots of practice being real and giving listening love in our group. Because . . . .
What do you say to a young woman who lost her fourteen year old sister to suicide two years ago? What do you say to a young woman who lost her father when she was just four to AIDS contracted from a tainted blood transfusion received before she was conceived? What do you say to a young woman trying so hard to live independently and be loved by others her age when her inside was damaged by alcohol before she was born but her outside looks so beautiful? What do you say to a young woman whose firstborn was placed in her teen aged arms only to die soon after? What do you say?
Sometimes the best thing is to say nothing—to just listen.
And all heads nod in agreement.
So we walked some rugged ground last night in the living room and explored how to love well, how to listen well, especially when another is in pain. Because sometimes the very best way to love is to hold with your heart and your ears and your eyes while another pours. And sometimes the best thing is getting up out of your chair and wrapping your arms around pain, as painful as it might be, without a word being said.
And we practiced last night with one another being raw and real.
How hard it is for some to love like this. Why do some people look the other way, or say something trite, or give advice about things they don’t know? Why do some just pretend all is well when they know it’s not and they try to lighten things up with a joke or a change of subject?
Because some people don’t deal with pain well—in themselves and in others. And because, honestly, some people just can’t get outside of themselves to care that much about others.
Pain hurts. That’s obvious. But it’s not the pain of others that bothers us the most. It’s the feeling of helplessness. We want to fix but we can’t. We don’t know what to do, so we do nothing. We hope and pretend that the pain will just go away in time. But it doesn’t always. Often, left unattended, pain grows. And instead of people getting closer, they get more and more distant. People become human shells passing each other by without ever touching each other’s emotional lives.
We need to be known. We need those who will welcome all of us into their heart—our happy AND sad—the messy stuff—especially the messy stuff.
What we don’t need is someone who says without saying, “Welcome into my life but the sad parts, the hard parts—those you need to leave on the doorstep. Because I only want to deal with light and happy and comfortable in here.”
Even Jesus knows what it’s like to want comfort from companions who don’t give it. In his most dire emotional moment, in the garden of Gethsemane awaiting his arrest and scourging and crucifixion, they fell asleep, leaving him alone with his pain.
He only wanted one hour. One hour of wakefulness. One hour of attentiveness. One hour of heartfelt sitting with him. ONE HOUR.
And so do we. What if we learned how to love really well by listening? What if we gave just a bit of our time once in a while? What if we learned how to manage our own fears of pain and helplessness and vulnerability so we could give the gift of listening so others can share their hearts?
A lot of therapist’s offices would start closing. People would get real love for free. People would start spreading deep love to others in ways that really heal and cause people to thrive.
I used to be a therapist. Now I do it for free. Mostly what I do is listen and ask questions so I can listen some more. And I empathize and normalize. Most people think their feelings are so strange. Usually, they’re so normal. But because so many have never had anyone listen deeply, it’s easy to feel strange and awkward and in need of encouragement to speak of deep things. But when it’s done, the withered start to refresh. The closed start to open. The dead come to life.
And it doesn’t stop there. The refreshed, the open, the alive—they can’t help but go out and give what they’ve been given. On and on it goes, rippling out. On and on it goes, people experiencing what it’s like to really be known—to really be loved.
One heart at a time. That’s all it takes. One listening, caring heart at a time.
And what about presence—being in another’s physical presence? Our Thursday nights would not be the same in a conference call.
Text messages, emails, phone calls—they’re okay when that’s all there is. But they’re no substitute for physical presence because there is something mystical and holy about being in another’s presence and holding them with our hearts and our eyes, even when our lips say nothing.
Just now, this very minute—I received a text. A young woman Todd and I know—she just lost her baby. A close friend’s daughter-in-law went in for a check-up and they couldn’t hear the heart beat so she had an ultrasound last night. We have to text for now because our friends, the grandma and grandpa, now not-to-be, live a distance away.
Tomorrow we will wrap arms around. We will listen and love—the way they need—any way they need. And we know them well. There will probably be tears. And that’s okay. We have dinner planned, the four of us. Lord, help us love well.
Life is difficult. That’s reality.
But love overcomes.
Listening with love connects deeply and heals profoundly.
Listening with love brings beauty from ashes.