You know those wonderful, wise people who listen with full attention, never jump to conclusions, and say only what needs to be said and not a hiccup more?
Yeah, that’s not me.
I am an experienced operative in the world of unsolicited advice. Don’t want an opinion? I have one anyway. Didn’t ask for advice? Mine is free and plentiful.
Until recently, I would have said I was fairly careful about sharing the advice and opinions that pop into my head. But after standing in line to cash a check ,hearing the non-stop thoughts of the man behind me, I got to thinking. What would happen if I consciously listened more and opined less?
I hadn’t decided yet what to sacrifice for Lent. This would be perfect! For 40 days, I would offer no unsolicited opinions and give no unsought advice.
It seemed easy enough, until I logged in to Facebook.
The first well-thought-out comment to a friend’s post flew from my fingers and I hit “send” before remembering. He hadn’t asked my opinion. I hit “delete”.
Several comments have since been half-written and erased. I’ve had an internal debate over whether “liking” something constituted an opinion or just encouragement. The nuances are many.
In the store, I noticed a misspelled sign in Spanish. I instantly dug in my purse for pen and paper, then just as quickly stopped. The minimum-wage clerk behind the counter didn’t need someone telling him what his company should do.
To be honest, it drove me nuts for the first few days. Like a pressure cooker without a release valve, I became more and more aware of every advice-laden, opinionated thought that pressed on my lips. I began to wonder about the protocol for changing Lenten sacrifices; what do you do when it’s hard to tolerate the one you picked and you’d like to try a lighter fare?
Then, last night, I had to phone in to a committee meeting. In the course of discussion the chairman said those magic words: “What do you think?” Let me tell you, that was one heady brew. I aired my opinions! I gave my advice! As I excitedly laid out (in more detail than necessary) my recommendations for a possible event, I found myself scribbling, “Thank God for committee meetings!”
It boggles the mind.
It also got me to thinking again. I tolerate the squeaky door. I tolerate the wrong salad dressing. A Lenten sacrifice should not be tolerated; it should expose me to the deeper nature of Jesus.
Then I thought about something I tell novice interpreters: that one of the most important skills they can develop is the ability to listen without the need to respond.
So maybe that’s what was missing from my Lenten sacrifice.
Perhaps instead of listening more, I should focus on only listening, even outside the interpreter’s booth. Maybe I need to cut loose the expectations lurking behind the advice I want to give, expectations the other person never asked for, and make room for the person they already are.
The impatience is gone now. I’m getting excited about this experiment. The next few weeks will be an adventure.
In fact, the excitement seems to be catching. My son called to chat, and I told him of my Lenten sacrifice and that I wouldn’t be giving unsolicited advice until Lent was over.
He and his brother are still out celebrating.