Advice is easy, listening is hard, and advice given without first listening can be hurtful. So I often pray for the grace to be silent. Sometimes I forget.
Years ago, my mother had had some surgery after which she was confined to a rehab facility until she had recovered sufficiently to return home. She hated it and let me know. On the phone she told me about how the place was full of crazy and demented people. I immediately told her that it couldn’t be that bad. I told her to just go sit at a table and start talking to people.
We had a joke in our family that Mom could carry on a fifteen-minute phone conversation with a wrong number. Where I got the notion that she was not already trying to befriend people in precisely the way I suggested I cannot say. Nevertheless, I did not hesitate to give her the advice which, when followed, would clearly make everything okay.
Except that it wouldn’t. I was not living near her and so when I had the chance to visit her, I met the people I was telling her to befriend, people whose mental acuity had long since departed. I suddenly understood her loneliness and to this day regret not being more quick to sympathize than I was to advise.
Sometimes people trust us enough to share their sorrow with us. That is a gift before which we need to be quiet. We need to believe that they in fact know what they are talking about and that their sorrow or confusion or hardship is real and that it will not bend or bow to our hastily spoken simplistic solutions.
There is a time to speak, but not before we’ve listened and made every effort to understand. And even then, the best move might be to simply be quiet and wait for the words that God will give.