Pet peeve alert. And a disclaimer alert. –As in, what I’m about to tell you is something I witness that bothers me, but I also struggle with this topic too. I humbly share the following metaphor and follow up information. See if you can relate also.
First, the metaphor: I don’t like garbage to pile up in my vehicle. It does not bother me if other people fill their cars with garbage, but every time I pull into my driveway or a parking lot with a trash can, I try to toss the garbage. I do not sweep or wipe out my vehicle nearly enough, but the garbage must go daily.
Last week I was eager to clear my trash when I noticed that every garbage can in the parking lot was overflowing. If I had tried to add my trash, then I only would have added to the overflow situation. The garbage cans were full. My trash would have to wait.
This life moment reminded me of how sometimes people go through a heavy mess of stuff in their life. Sometimes a person is so overflowing that their pain is obvious. That person may choose to share their troubles with you.
Here’s the pet peeve part: when someone begins to share what is ailing them I think we need to be careful not to add to their garbage. Jumping in to tell someone a story about our own lives, interrupting the other person, trumping them with a nearly similar story…all of that is usually not a good idea–at least not a good idea in that initial sharing time. How much better is it when we simply seek to be present for the other person? How rare is it for anyone to feel heard all the way? –For someone to speak and to be allowed to finish their thought?
I’m not saying that we never share when we have something in common with the other person’s issue. I’m just saying that if someone’s garbage is full, then don’t add to it. Maybe you send them an encouraging word later. Maybe you tell them at a later time that you may be able to relate to their story. Or maybe you simply give the other person the gift of listening and leave it at that.
Occasionally I struggle with this area too. After an exchange passes I may think, “Why did I feel the need to share that in response? What was my motive?”
If our motives are to be there for others and not add to their garbage, then usually the answer is to be present, to be quiet and truly listen.
Hebrews 13:5 Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things you have….
Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God….
May we be a good listener for others.
May we be blessed with good listeners when we need them.
May we know the difference and the right timing for both.