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When my friend Rachel Britton, author of Tough to Love: How to Find Peace in Difficult Relationships sent me this post for you, I was delighted. Rachel gives us such a powerful but counter-intuitive way to listen when we don’t like what we’re hearing. Make sure to read to the end for a giveaway of her book. Please welcome Rachel!
If you’re like me, you don’t want to listen to a difficult person in your life.
I find myself groaning about that person giving their point of view in the meeting. I avoid making eye contact, and especially conversation, with the relative sitting across from me at the dinner table. Or, I try to walk past the woman at church pretending I haven’t seen her. At the most I force a smile and a “how are you,” which doesn’t look like it’s coming through clenched teeth.
I have to say, it’s exhausting dealing with my emotions when I don’t want to listen. Unfortunately, often, we have little choice. The most difficult people are usually closest to us.
So, how do we listen without getting worn out? It is important to take the time and let our work colleagues, family members, or sisters at church have their say. But, there’s another lesson in how we listen that can be learned, and that is realizing it’s what we listen to that can trip us up.
We need to be aware of how we allow the words we hear to affect us.
I can pick up on one small phrase or word said to me, which blows up in my head. Before I know it, I’m wrestling with accusations not actually spoken to me.
“I’ll send you the details again,” she said innocently. Yet, I didn’t just hear “again.” I heard: “You’re so disorganized and unprofessional.” “You’ve made me do extra work.“ “You’re such a loser.” “Can’t you get your act together?”
Unfortunately, my internal monologue didn’t stop there. I repeated it to my husband when he walked through the door after a long day of meetings. I’m chopping carrots like I’m using an axe and fifteen minutes later I could see from his shoulders this was not the way to unwind for the day.
So, how do we listen without finding ourselves blowing everything out of proportion, complaining about our friend to someone else, and learning to let go of words that hurt?
Thankfully we have a heavenly Father who we can talk to, who listens to what we have to say, and who promises to bring peace into the situation. Not only that, we can trust him to speak on our behalf.
The Bible, in Philippians 4, encourages us to take our anxiety about anything and everything, including our frustration over words spoken to us, to God in prayer.
And in Psalm 109 we have an example of David turning to God about the people who “opened their mouths against me.” They lied, said hateful words, and made accusations. David didn’t hold back in his anger. “May his children be wandering beggars,” he said about his enemy! We can be like David and let it all out to God. After all, God knows everything we’re thinking, feeling, and feel like saying and doing to the other person.
Praying is a safe place to talk about that difficult person. What we say doesn’t go any further with God. We can burden him with our woes, instead of burdening those we love. And God, who lives in relationship, fully understands relationships both perfect and imperfect.
So, prayer isn’t telling God what’s new. Prayer is letting God give us a new perspective, and that includes a new perspective on the words we hear.
Just like David, after his outpouring, we have to ask God for his help. He says: “Lord, help me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me. For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me.” We need to ask God for help to get over the words we’ve heard that hurt us, and a fresh view on the words we think we’ve heard.
Prayer is not just pouring out our pain and frustrations, it is allowing God to pour in His peace.
We have to trust God. We must give everything over to God and believe He will deal fairly with what has been said to us, because He cares for us. And like in Psalm 109, if there has been any wrongdoing said against us, God is just. Like David, we can ask God to “not remain silent” on the matter.
As my finger hovered over the keyboard waiting to tap out an angry reply, I let my thoughts travel upwards. “Lord…”
It’s not easy to let go of what’s been said to us and leave it in God’s hands, but it’s better than taking the matter into our own hands.
Unhealthy reactions are likely to lead to unhealthy actions. With God, we can let go and move on. And, we’ll feel so much better for it. We’ll be freed from those exhausting emotions.
Next time you listen and words trip you up, catch your reactions before they go too far. Take them to God, pour out your pain, and ask for His perspective and peace. It may take more than one time, but persevere in prayer.
Giveaway: How do you think prayer can change your hard-to-listen-to conversations? Leave your comment for a chance to win a copy of Rachel’s excellent book, Tough to Love: How to Find Peace in Difficult Relationships.
Rachel is a British-born, author, blogger, and speaker. She helps women pray naturally and become comfortable and confident in their conversation with God. Raised on the east coast of England, Rachel moved to New England. She now lives in New York City with her husband. They have three young adult children. Connect with Rachel at rachelbritton.com