Nothing like a lesson in listening during lunch on a Thursday with me, myself, and I.
I ordered my Chili’s menu favorite—Caribbean Salad with Grilled Chicken. Next, I pulled a file folder from my tote, ready to edit a book chapter while waiting for the greens adorned with pineapple, mandarin oranges, dried cranberries, green onions, cilantro, chicken, and more.
Before I got my head into marking up the manuscript, my 30-something waitress greeted her customer and friend seated in the booth in front of mine. A couple minutes later, she slid onto the bench across from her older friend and began recounting a personal saga that involved her troubled teenage son.
I perused the pile of papers in my folder while employing a few techniques I learned as a writer studying people for character research.
Here’s what I observed:
The listening friend’s chin drooped.
Her eyes narrowed in empathy.
A sad sigh lifted her shoulders and dropped them.
Her hand reached across the table to lock fingers with her friend.
Her mouth seldom moved as she listened. What?!
That’s what compassion and sisterhood look like. That’s what we want in a best friend, right?
Someone centered on listening and empathy, and slow to speak.
I knew someone who couldn’t hear a friend’s story without feeling like it was her job to “fix” the problem with arbitrary explanations and pat answers. Like a bossy, know-it-all big sister.
Okay, that might have been me. Wink. Wink.
When my salad popped up on the cook’s shelf, the waitress stood and squeezed her friend’s hand. “I feel better,” she said, her voice stronger. “Thanks for listening.”
The mostly quiet but supportive friend offered the younger woman a smile, a nod, and a thumbs-up, leaving me with food for thought.
- The best kind of friend knows it’s not her place to have all the answers. She understands that empty words can be deceitful, harmful. (Ephesians 5:6)
- The best kind of friend “hears” better because she isn’t trying to formulate “spiritual” answers to “fix” the feelings or solve the struggle.
- The best kind of friend understands that we all need a safe space in which to voice heartache and sort out facts and feelings. We all long for a friend who will throw out tired and trite cliches, and listen. Hear us. Am I right?
- The best kind of friend doesn’t offer a hyper-emotional reaction, dragging the storyteller deeper into the heartache. Instead, she sends her friend away feeling seen, heard, and hopeful.
- The best kind of friend is well-acquainted with restraint. Listening well always wins over saying something– anything–simply to fill uncomfortable silence or attempt to answer questions only God can answer.
I’m not saying a best friend won’t and shouldn’t speak truth or offer wise counsel. But let’s do first things first.
Pray for wisdom.
Lean into the Holy Spirit to give us life-giving words. (Luke 12:12)
Our challenge is to listen while breathing a prayer for an apt reply–a timely word to refresh the hurting.