In one of my pastoral counseling classes in seminary we watched a video where psychotherapist Carl Rogers was interviewing a very withdrawn hospitalized schizophrenic patient. The interview was called "A Silent Young Man."
Rogers' therapeutic strategy was non-directive. I remember thinking how patient Rogers was with this twenty-eight-year-old man. Rogers was famous for his "active listening." In the video there were many breaks of silence that seemed excruciatingly long, as Rogers waited for the man to say something. The silences lasted anywhere from ten seconds to eighteen minutes. (!)
Today I am thinking about this video, which I saw forty-two years ago. It helped me, by showing that understanding must always precede evaluating. Never judge someone or something before you understand. Love is able to wait.
This is one of the reasons I was attracted to Linda. I remember a night, before we began to date, and I was struggling with something. I had met Linda in the campus ministry we were both part of. We had been in some group situations together. That night, I wanted to talk with someone. The best person I could think of was Linda. She would listen to me, and that was what I needed.
Carl Rogers said the therapist tries "to hear the sounds and sense the shape of the other person's inner world. He asks himself, 'Can I resonate to what [the person] is saying, can I let it echo back and forth in me, so deeply that I sense the meanings he is afraid of yet would like to communicate, as well as those meanings he knows." (In Godfrey T. Barrett-Lennard, Carl Rogers' Helping System: Journey and Substance, p. 93)
Rogers' listening gift shows me that truly hearing someone is deeper, more attentive, and more empathic than I have ever thought.
Tonight I am re-reading Adam McHugh's excellent book A Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness In a World of Distraction. McHugh says listening is a form of kenosis, a self-emptying, so the thoughts of another can find a place to speak in you. He writes,
"Listening is central to the gospel. Emptying yourself, assuming the role of a servant and submitting to others is not only the description of Christ's incarnation, it is also the description of a true listener." (P. 36)