The point of listening ears

In the late night hours during my year as a resident assistant, I would often find myself on the floor, or leaning against a wall, locked in a bedroom or curled up on a kitchen sofa, listening to my girls as they detailed their various struggles with homework, boys, roommates or family members.  In hindsight, many of the stories represent efforts at growing into adults, something we were all working on at the time (and something I am STILL working on).  At the time, I knew that my job was not to directly tell them what to do.  My job was to listen.  However, in my genuine desire for their well-being and in my exuberance to be be of some aid, I couldn’t help myself and I would ask questions intended to guide them to a certain conclusion.  Basically I was trying to get them to see their problems through my perspective because sometimes the solution seemed so clear from where I sat.   Over time, my listening eyes became trained enough that I could see where this approach led.   Given enough of these loaded questions, the speaker would begin to fidget, look around and seek an escape route.   The conversation would hastily come to a close and I would walk back to my room, heavy-hearted and shaking my head, completely confused at their inability to see the solution with the clarity I thought I’d offered.

It wasn’t until I had to explain my own therapy experiences to RJ that I was able to see how my understanding of listening had matured a bit.   Rather than doling out sage advice or guiding with pointed questions, more often than not, I realized that my job with those residents was to help them know themselves, not as I saw them but as they were.  Sometimes it’s almost impossible to see oneself clearly through a fog of trauma, conflict, or even just new ideas.  It can be hard to pinpoint agitation or discontent without a safe place to empty one’s thoughts and sift through them.  That is the job of a listener, to carefully receive the words of a speaker and then methodically sort through them in an effort to identify possible connections or make unbiased observations.   I am grateful for the patience of those 58 residents who trusted a bit of their growth to me and patiently taught me how to listen.

Balanced Charity

It can seem rather daunting to just start doling out understanding and I’ve spent countless hours on my knees and on my psychologist’s couch trying to tackle the more delicate aspects of it.  Where I once believed that charity and love meant always giving, giving, giving with no thought of self and trusting the nebulous idea that the Savior will make up whatever we lack, I have come to realize that there must be balance in our offerings.  I fought this principle for a long long long time because I thought I understood charity and I thought I just needed to have more faith.  But charity is a principled love, and her principles are meant to be applied in all of our relationships (self, God, others) simultaneously.  There are very few things that I can ever strike a regular balance with and I think charity has a fluid and forgiving nature.   But if we slide too far out of balance, we can start to feel some very valid resentment and frustration.   And if left un-checked, it’s natural for those feelings to lead to anger, blame and disillusionment.  Like anything else, the process of understanding what charity really entails takes patience-mostly with ourselves.  It also takes guts because some of the things you realize may fly in the face of what you’ve always thought.  It usually takes running straight into my limits and spending some time nursing my wounds down on the ground for me to realize that limits (also known as: my current level of mastery) can and should be respected.  There is a lot of beauty to be viewed when we’re honest about the current dimensions of our development because when we acknowledge the place where our abilities end and we have to determine when it’s needful to venture out beyond that it becomes obvious where His efforts begin.