Sometimes you need to be quiet and listen.
In this blog post, I have a very specific context in mind when I say, “Be quiet and listen.” I am speaking about the context of grief. If you read my last blog post (God bless you if you did!), you will know that I am grieving the death of my mother. When I trust you with my story of grief, I need you to be quiet and listen.
I need you to bear witness to my experience with death. I need you to be present with your body, your mind, and your spirit. I need to know that you are with me. I need to know that you are not afraid. Can you sit with my pain? Can you sit with your own pain? Because my pain will probably touch on yours. Can you be okay with that?
I need you to be okay with awkwardness and silence. Silence can be quite awkward, can’t it? We don’t know what to do with the awkwardness. We try to fill the silence with words. I need you to keep the words at bay. Silence is okay. Referring to John of the Cross, Rev. Dr. Melanie Dobson reminded us at the recent Convocation on the Rural Church, “Silence is God’s first language.”
I need you NOT to share the story of your own experience with loss. I know that you trying to find a place to connect, a way to say, “Hey, I get it. I’ve been through something similar.” The problem is, when you mention your experience, you shift the encounter to be about you. You become the focus of the conversation. I will no longer feel encouraged to talk about my experience. I will know that I am not safe to express my pain. I will not share more of my story and I will shift to consoling you.
One of the core practices in conflict transformation is listening. Truly listening. We ask that all participants, “Allow others to speak without comments, questions, or rebuttal.” We use a talking object/piece so that all have the opportunity to speak and all have the opportunity to listen. When you have the talking object, you have permission to talk. When you do not have the talking object, you have permission to listen. The end result is that participants have spent far more time listening than talking, which is in itself a healing experience.
Simply listening, especially in the presence of grief and loss, is almost impossible for most humans. We want to fix or console or shift the focus or change the subject. I believe we do this because we are reminded of our own vulnerability when we are in the presence of another’s loss. We are reminded of our own losses and our own pain. Seeking to relieve pain–whether it is our own pain or the pain of others–is a natural and understandable response. Pain hurts and we want to stop hurting.
If I chose to share my story of loss with you, I need you to be able to tolerate the pain. If I chose to entrust you with my most tender memories, I need you to hold them with great care. If I chose to share with you how much I miss my mother, I need you simply to be quiet and listen.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1