After recent conversations with a friend, I realized something about myself that I have noticed before, but saw again with aggravating and annoying clarity. Mostly because it pointed out a character flaw and who among us likes their shortcomings laid out for them whether it is by a close friend or relative or by the Spirit? No one likes being told they need something corrected.
Despite that, I saw that I was yet again, without intentionally doing so, one-upping in conversation and that it needed correcting. See if you track this with me at all…
“You maybe struggle with this, but I do to and here is my story…”
“You maybe have someone who bugs you to no end, but wait till you hear about my someone…”
“You might have struggles at school/home, but wait till you hear about my week…”
Ever used these types of phrases? Yeah me too.
I was so ready to “relate” and tell my stories that I didn’t listen to theirs. Because think about this a second. When would I have had the time to think about my stories? When this individual was talking. Which means I wasn’t listening. Which means I was only focused on how I was going to relate and how I was going to share a story I felt was equally if not more “important.”
Writing that just makes my stomach hurt.
Now, there was a part of me that was truly trying to relate. However, if there is anything I have learned about listening is that sometimes the last thing I WANT when speaking is for someone to relate with a story of their own. I just want them to listen. I don’t need them to relate. And I really don’t need them to one-up me with a more intense story than mine. I just need the space to talk.
Which means I need to allow room for others to do the same.
It’s hard because a good majority of us are wired to talk and not to listen. But if we don’t, we are no better than the five-year-old version of ourselves on the playground saying, “My Dad is stronger than your Dad! He could beat your Dad up!” And while that might be entertaining to watch, it’s not really where we want to be in the end when we talk to people.
This is something I have had to learn over and over again with my students. While sometimes they need and want to hear stories you might have from your own life relating to what they are talking about, most of the time they just want and need someone to listen.
Getting help for your issues or having someone listen to your problems does not belong in the youth room with your students – as much as we might be tempted to do so. We can be their friend. We can be their leader. But we can’t be their problem. This is their space. This is their place to vent, to talk, to cry, to rage and to not be judged for it.
Listen first and when they are finished, keep listening. Because sometimes it is in the spaces between the words where the most is said. And if you are talking you are going to miss those moments.
Sarah Vanderaa is currently serving as a full-time youth director in a church located in the south suburbs of Chicago. She is close to wrapping up her tenth year there and is excited to see what year eleven will bring. On her rest days, she can often be found behind a computer writing and updating her blog, while drinking lots and lots of coffee. In between naps, she still finds time to read novels. You can connect with Sarah through her blog at WWW.UNLOCKANDRELEASE.TUMBLR.COM or her Facebook page @UNLOCKANDRELEASE.