In a world that is all about efficiency, people are constantly forced to ask themselves, “what is my worth.” As a society we are focused on getting things done faster and better. Everything is about financial gain, and since time is money, there is nothing more sinful than wasting someone’s time. If a friend comes to us and is struggling emotionally, it is a waste of time. People are afraid of being open about their problems, because they don’t want to be a burden. If someone does speak up about a struggle the reaction they receive is often one of, “how can we fix you.” We live in a mechanical age where most “problems” can be fixed. As a result, we have lost the art of listening and supporting. I am guilty of this; I have never been very good at being empathetic. When someone opens up to me, before they have even finished telling me about their struggle, I have stopped listening and already begun thinking up ways to help them fix things. I read a book by theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called Life Together, in which there was a section entitled ‘The Ministry of Listening.” This portion really struck me,
“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.”
People are so quick to offer help, and so slow to listen to someone who really needs it. This adds to a person’s struggle instead of making it better. Your struggling friend or acquaintance will sit there and listen to you come up with ways to make it all better, and wonder what is wrong with them that they can’t seem to change their situation.
So often the struggle is one of someone seeking to find their worth in a world that demands their personal output. They become anxious when they cannot see an immediate way that they will benefit society. They become depressed when they see others around them functioning with purpose and value. Then, worst of all, they begin to think the most productive thing they can do is remove themselves from the equation of life. This is a truly tragic reality of the world we live in. And through it all we refuse to listen, and we continually look for solutions.
Do not misunderstand, I in no way wish to assert some sort of authority on the issue. I have never struggled with severe anxiety or depression and cannot begin to understand what it’s like. I have however struggled with being a good listener and being supportive of those in need. So the goal today is to offer a new take on helping those who have severe physical and emotional struggles that cannot be fixed with a formula of actions, but can be helped with a listening ear.