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Love as listening: 'Feeling loved is feeling heard'

By ROD E. SMITH - For The Courier-Times

Love cannot be pretended. Nor can the art and skill of listening. Feeling loved is feeling heard. To listen is to profoundly love. If I say “I love you,” then I am saying I am willing to hear you. I am willing to hear even the things I would rather you would not say. If I am truly loved I will be able to say, appropriately, the things that you would rather not hear.

Anyone willing can be a better listener, and therefore, a better lover.

When someone you love wants to talk, if you have no intention of listening, rather say so. This, in itself, is an act of love. You will have overcome a hurdle of good listening: honesty. There will be times when you will not be available. In the same way, you too will not expect that others will always be available to hear you.

Listening, like love, has no tricks. It is expressing genuine interest. It is entering the world of another, modifying nothing. It’s embracing the experience of another person simply because of his or her intrinsic value apart from anything he or she might (or might not) be able to do for us.

When you listen, the angle at which you sit does not matter very much. If you are not listening, the other person will know. The depth of your stare into another’s eyes or the sincerity of your facial expression will not do it. People thousands of miles apart, connected by a telephone, can really hear each other while two people, seated on the same sofa, staring into each other’s eyes, can miss everything each is trying to say.

Listen to your own life. What is it saying? The words you use and the things you do, tell about the spiritual condition of your life, reflecting your heart. If you want to know about someone’s spirituality, listen to what the person says and the things he or she finds amusing.

All behavior has meaning: the flat spin you are in and the endless hours you might spend at work, keeping you from family, all mean something. Listen to your life’s rhythms. Notice that some days you feel very healthy, things seem in balance and you can be sincerely nice to people. Other days are different! Listening to your life will alert you to when extra care in dealing with others would be helpful. If you cannot hear yourself you can hear no one.

When you feel intense emotions, listen intensely. Feelings are messages about the state of your life. They often bring helpful warnings. Try to understand what your emotions are communicating. A person can only deal with feelings when they are felt. Trying to deal with feelings when they are not felt is like trying to learn to ride a bicycle by staring at one. When you have understood your feelings, express them appropriately to someone you love. This is an act of love.

The effective listener listens to family members. If a person cannot listen to his or her partner, it is unlikely he or she will hear his or her children, or anyone else for that matter. Try to listen without waiting to speak. Leave your agenda for this time. Give your attention as a gift.

Try not to argue, persuade or interrupt. If possible, listen by looking into eyes. Listen to body language. Take the focus off yourself. Is there anything a loved one is trying to say that you are not hearing? If what you are hearing is not pleasing to you, remind yourself that this is not your opportunity to speak. It is not your world being presented.

Listening does not mean that you have to be silent but anything you do say is an effort to clarify meaning. What you do say is not an attempt to steer the speaker in a certain direction or to have the speaker tell you what you want to hear. Listening is not interpreting what you hear but hearing what you hear.

The goal of listening is to hear, not redirect, not elicit agreement, not moralize and not teach. It has no other motive except to better understand the world and the experience of another.

Rod Smith is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in New Castle. He is a regular contributor to the Faith Perspective column.