I like to fix things. The thought that I can’t help a friend scares me, so I like to have all the answers when they are struggling.
Are you having relationships issues? You should fix it this way.
Struggling with anxiety? That’s easy, you should try this fantastic technique I use!
Is today a bad day for you? Tell me why and I’ll tell you how to make it better.
I tend to believe that whenever someone I love is going through a difficult time, it is my personal responsibility to save them. They yearn for rescue, and I long to fill that gap and make everything okay again. So when I listen to them, I listen with the intent to answer.
Listening with the intent to answer and ‘fix’ things always means that my mind is in two places. It is focused on the person I am with as I listen to their story, but the majority of my attention it is focused on my own thoughts. My mind is running a million miles an hour, coming up with a solution that they may or may not have asked for. Once I have found the ‘answer,’ I am then more intent on finding the right words to say than actually hearing the words of my friend.
It turns out that when I do this, I’m a pretty lousy friend. When you’re having a bad day, you don’t want someone to tell you to look on the bright side of life. You want someone to sit with you. You need them to empathise and actually hear what you are saying. Not just your words, but the sounds of the pain and heaviness you feel. When I stop and listen to hear, I share the load with my friend for a few precious moments.
Listening to answer requires words. It demands solutions and knowledge that may or may not help the person I’m with. When I come to a friend during a season of depression, I don’t need answers, I just need love. I need a friend to listen to me, and in doing so remind me that I do have enough strength to overcome the darkness and that things will get better. I need them to remind me of the strategies I have learnt to fight depression, and then I need them to stay in my life as I come through it.
When we listen to hear, we give more to our friends than answers ever will. Answers simplify pain, but listening recognises their struggle. If they are silent, we too are silent. We hear the sound of space around us, and sense the unparalleled pain sitting in their gut. Our ability to simply be with them fills that void – not with answers, but with understanding.
I am trying to listen to hear, to sacrifice my need to ‘fix’ things with the tension of walking through struggles with the people I love. Answers may provide solutions, but they don’t heal. There is never a simple solution to depression, but the presence of our loved ones reminds us that light still exists. Anxiety may demand answers, but its nature restricts us from believing them even when they come. Yet when a friend simply hears our concerns and supports us, we can find rest. And addiction is far too complicated to be fixed with a simple word, but finding someone who will hear our story and understand our pain can motivate us to receive help.
I guess what I’m saying is that I’d like to have all the answers, but I don’t. I wish I could take away the pain of the people around me, but I can’t. I am able to be a friend though- to sit with people in silence, to encourage them to seek help, and to celebrate with them as they enter recovery.
To listen and answer is one thing, but to stop and listen is the healing balm that binds friends together. I want to be a friend that listens to hear.
This was published by Hope Movement on December 25, 2015. Read it here.