You know the feeling.
You have finally come to your wits’ end. Because of the pandemic, your financial situation is dire, so you pick up the phone and ring your best friend. Or your mother. Or your sister. Or your therapist.
From the word go, as you are trying to share your ever-escalating fear and frustration, you realise that the person you are talking to is not paying attention to your conversation…and you want to scream. Can she not give you just 10 minutes of her time? On Christmas Eve? It’s not as if she is preparing the customary Christmas meal for 20 people, is it?
It is indeed Christmas Eve 2020, a Christmas Eve pas comme les autres, as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage undeterred.
Procrastinators and Pandemics
Most of us have sent gifts abroad, to families that we cannot visit this year. We have dropped off gifts to those nearer to us, carefully avoiding contact, and the presents we are giving those we live with are wrapped and ready to be shared under the Christmas tree.
A few procrastinators are still feverishly scouring Amazon, desperately looking for that perfect e-book to send as a gift at this, the very last moment.
We are celebrating the birth of Christ, God’s greatest gift to man(and woman)kind.
There is one gift left to give today, the most precious gift we can give each other, a priceless gift that we can freely give without having to spend a penny – the gift of our undivided attention.
This strange and subdued Christmas, that a huge number of people will either spend on their own or with one significant other, we will have time to listen to each other.
A Priceless Present
Listening attentively to each other, giving each other our undivided attention, is not as easy as it may sound. There is much more to it than sitting quietly in a Zoom meeting and listening to others talk.
In these difficult times, we all need to talk about what we are going through and I don’t know about you, but when I want to share my misgivings about the future, I would prefer to do so talk to someone who is actually listening to what I am saying. Or trying to say.
So what makes a good listener?
Above all, I think, a good listener is a patient listener. A good listener waits compassionately for you to get to the point, without interrupting, allowing you to get it all off your chest, in your own good time.
Good listeners listen to understand. They ask appropriate questions when something isn’t clear. Their questions and comments show insight into your situation. They care about you, about what is happening to you, they put themselves in your shoes.
They make eye contact, even on Zoom.
While you are talking, they are not thinking about what they are going to say next, or about something similar that once happened to them, or about the 101 urgent things they need to do or even about what they can do to help you.
They put their phones on “silent” so that they can hear everything you are saying. As well as everything that you are not saying.
They listen through the silences while you are trying to put what you are feeling into words, they pay attention to what you are saying with your whole body and not just to your words.
An attentive listener acknowledges, empathises with and validates your feelings.
They listen without judging, without criticising, without making assumptions.
They keep what you tell them to themselves. A good listener creates a safe environment in which difficult, complex, or emotional issues can be freely discussed. They never betray a confidence.
Is this not one of the greatest gifts we can give each other? On this day and every day of the rest of the year?
This year, we can phone or arrange a Zoom/Skype/Facebook meeting and listen to the people we love, giving them our undivided attention and our unmitigated support.
We have time to listen, this Christmas.
If you cannot find someone to listen to you, even though you are determined to be a good listener in return, there are two things that you can do.
Firstly, you can start a journal. Journals are probably some of the best listeners ever discovered. Not only are journals expert listeners, but journals also become skilled communicators over time, offering you surprising insights into the workings of your mind, as the days, weeks, months and years go by.
Secondly, you can light a candle and talk to God. He is always listening and He always gives you his full attention. He says, “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete,” in John 16:24. In Philippians 4:6 He says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Thirdly, you can pull your cat or your dog (or both) onto your lap, cuddle them close and share your troubles with your free, fully qualified and experienced therapists.
May you give and receive the gift of attentive listening, in abundance, this Christmas.