Sunday, November 10, 2013

{just} listen

I attended a great conference last week, heard some awesome speakers and met some incredible people.  The event was similar to attending the EntreLeadership Master Series in Cancun with Dave Ramsey and his team.  

I am always amazed at when you interact with people how their life shows through, in just a short little bit.  When you ask them questions, you engage in conversation, you learn about them.  Where they live, what they do for work, their family, their struggles, their fears, their hopes, their relationship with God.  If you simply ask questions, you will learn a lot.  All you have to do is just listen.  I wish to share an experience I had.

The first evening of the event, you checked in, got your materials and connected with people.  It was what they call a mixer.  Some people would walk up to you and other times you walked up to them.  I have not done the amount of networking events that I had for a few years and I found this time that it took me a little bit to get back into the groove of this and "get out of myself" and not just stick to a wall or hide in a corner.  When I have a lot on my mind, am not feeling myself, or am feeling self conscious this is my natural instinct to hide.  I have learned to interact with people, but I truly am an introvert in the core.  People say they don't think that, but I know I have learned to engage with people, this was not my natural personality.  

One of the guys that approached me, was full of life, big smile, warm and friendly to everyone in our circle.  He mixed and mingled easily with everyone and seemed intent on connecting with every person at the event.  None of this might have stood out to me, until I reflected back on it when we had lunch together the last day of the event.  

After the last session, we had lunch together and he asked what my takeaways were from the conference and for me to share my story about how I got into being an Entrepreneur; thus we begin our conversation.  As we chatted, I did what I always do and engage with people asking them about their life, starting with small talk about where they live and what they do (though I knew some of this from meeting him the first night), to what matters to them, to how God is apart of their life and what I can do to encourage and help them succeed.  

It did not take long for my conversation with Fred to get deep.  The guy was hurting.  Deeply hurting.  Behind his engaging smile and interaction with the attendees, he was dealing with a horrific emotional pain.  His wife recently asked for a divorce after 21 years of marriage and 4 kids whom are his world.  He absolutely still loves her.  Yet he feels he has succeeded at everything in life but his marriage.  He believes he put his marriage before his relationship with God.  He lives with a gnawing pain in the pit of his stomach.  He shared with me that he had left the conference at some point in the morning session, needing to go for a run to deal with all his thoughts and feelings that easily overwhelm him.  He is frustrated as he knows his smile is fake and he doesn't know how he is going to go on and he longs for his old self to be back.  Yet, through the pain he is determined to still care for his wife and take care of her even if they live separately.  He is a millionaire, but this has not made him happy.  He wants his wife.  

In my mind, I reflected to one of the statements made by one of the speakers at the conference:  "No amount of success will make up for failure in the home".  This was an example of that.  No wonder he needed to go for a run, it would be hard to face these reminders.

He showed me pictures of their last family picture together.  He showed me a picture of her, swallowing back the emotion, trying to talk.  He said "She is beautiful and means everything to me Misty."  The pain was intense, raw, the loss overwhelming, the grief enormous.  

I listened.  Fred did not need me to tell him that he made mistakes, he knows that.  He did not need me to tell him what to do now, how to live, that time will heal his hurts or any other meaningless statement.  He needed me to listen.  I did.  In doing so, he asked me, "Misty, you have shared some heartache and grief in your own life.  How do you get past it?"

Wow.  I hadn't anticipated this.  Me giving him advice?  He has no idea the amount of pain and sorrow I have faced.  I said a silent prayer, "God help me have the words to say that he see's the part you have played in my life in working through pain and how you can help him in his."  

I took a deep breath and encouraged him to not be afraid of the pain.  To lean into it and let it work in your heart.  To not live in fear.  To pray.  And above all, that no matter what mistakes he has made that God still loves Him.  At this point in the conversation, there were tears in his eyes.  This man is maybe 10 years older than me and he could not hide his pain.  His world was torn apart.  I told him to have hope that his marriage can be restored.  

He shook his head aggressively no, "She won't have me Misty.  She no longer wants me."  He shared an email he sent her to wish her Happy Birthday, a text message to let her know that he was here for her, the sorrow at her lack of response.  I encouraged him to continue to reach out to her, not to give up, to still have hope, that kindness matters, and to still be loving to her even when he is hurting, this will be a testimony to her and might reach her.  In the end, he might win her back, she might change her mind.  I told him I never give up on second chances.  God has given ALL of us second chances!  I told him regardless of why things have fallen apart, what has happened, and what he did, if he allows God to give him the strength to work through this, he will work all things for good.  I told him as he is aware of Romans 8:28 it doesn't state that the things will be good but that God will work them for good.  He told me he had never heard it like that.  He then said, "But Misty, God knows I never wanted this."

This wasn't something I knew how to respond to.  He may not have wanted this, but life had produced this because of little choices on his behalf and her behalf.  Marriages don't fall apart just because [yes, I am not married and I don't have any marriage advice to give, but I know all relationships take work].  Regardless, he was here now.  There was no way to undo the past.  So I said, "I know.  There are lots of things we don't want in life."

I thanked him for opening sharing his story, in a time of immense pain, hurt and loss.  I told him that I would be in prayer for him, his wife, his kids.  Prayers that God will give him peace and calm the feelings in the pit of his stomach.  Prayers that his marriage can be restored, prayers that the kindness he continues to show her will win her as true love cannot be ignored and kindness matters.  Prayers that she would give him a second chance.  Prayers that the kids are able to work through the feelings they are experiencing through this.  Prayers that God will help him to be brave.  Prayers that God will be with him each step of this horrible experience.  He thanked me over and over for listening.

As I walked away from this time, my heart hurt for him, for his wife, for his kids.  Pain is real.  The effects of broken relationships affects everyone.  I wondered why more of us don't just listen?

I was reminded through this experience that just when you think someone has their life together, they are warm and friendly, smiling, engaging with people, doesn't mean that it isn't a mask, hiding behind a horrific amount of pain.  

It reminded me of a saying I wish I had known and believed earlier in life, you probably have seen it:  

"Be kinder than necessary, everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle."

I wish I would remember this more.  I know it would change how I look at people if I kept that in mind more frequently.  It takes skill to learn to communicate to people that even if you don't know the details, you know that there is mess in their life that is creating pain and that you can see they are hurting without making them feel they had to share with you those details or that they are a mess.  But at the same time, learning to share those details brings healing.  It takes faith to believe you are not the only one fighting battles, even if your battles are unique and maybe even of more quantity than others.  

It is not an accident that I met him.  It is not an accident that I was there to listen and encourage him.  I just pray that the short time we had together he walked away with something to help heal his hurt and pain and to be reaffirmed in the fact that God loves him in the midst of all of his pain and failures.  I will probably never see him again, and when you think of touching someones life in a brief moment and making an impact, it truly makes you think about what matters.  Makes me think of one of my favorite verses:

Love others well, and don't hide behind a mask; love authentically.  ~ Romans 12:9, The Voice

May each of us be open, willing to share our lives with others, and more importantly, may we be willing to listen and love people.  

We all need to be loved.

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