[Originally published as What’s the Greatest Gift We Can Give Part 2]
One evening in mid-December, I hinted to my husband that I wanted fairy lights for Christmas, and my daughter overheard. I didn’t know it at the time, but privately she asked him not to get them for me. She wanted to give me a set for my writing room window because she heard me bemoan the day when I needed to take down the Christmas lights.
Light’s a scarce commodity during a West Coast winter. Rain tumbles down as loud and forceful as a child thrumming on a new set of drums. (Don’t ask me how I know this. The good news is that child grew into a young man whose drumming is welcome in my home any time.)
The gloom of our coastal midwinters can soak your soul. And not in a good way.
On the morning that I strung the lovely fairy lights around my window, we’d had so much rain that people were being warned to be careful while walking along rivers and creeks. All the tributaries flowed fast due to high-water levels.
This wasn’t the only thing we need to be warned about.
People needed to pay attention to their mental health too. Dark, damp weather is not only good for growing mushrooms, but it also grows mold in the minds of people. Fuzziness of thoughts and negative emotions flourish in such unfavorable-to-joy conditions.
That morning, before I framed the window with light—the window that overlooked a mossy lawn—my husband needed a gift from me. He shared some things that were heavy on his heart, things I couldn’t lift either. Sensing his need to be heard, I listened. Quietly.
I’d been waiting for him to share his mind about whatever was bothering him. Sometimes we need to open the cellar door and let some light and oxygen in. We can’t keep it all inside and expect stale air to sustain us. When we confess our concerns to someone we trust, we find out the cellar still has a lot of goodness that hasn’t gone bad. There’s still hope for today and for tomorrow. We’re not alone. Not now. Not ever.
He spoke. I listened. He found good words to follow his difficult ones. My job was to listen and wait.
Sometimes the best gift we can give someone is to listen long enough for that person to find light in the middle of their darkness. And while we wait, God shines soothing truth into their soul.
I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in the darkness. John 12:46 NIV
Most people crave attentive ears and fewer sermons. Our biggest job is to keep silent so they can hear the Holy Spirit speak.
He paused and smiled, “You’re just listening. Aren’t you?”
“Good for you,” he said. “And by the way, you always look lovely in the mornings.”
What he didn’t know was I had been up early and long enough to have already done my spiritual and physical grooming. The light peach lipstick on my lips matched the warm joy in my heart. And having him say I did something good for him added a brightness to my eyes no mascara could ever outlash or outlast.
What my man also didn’t know was that I had listened to what he had hinted he wanted. What he wanted for Christmas. Except that I bought it and tucked it away for his birthday, which was later in December. Since I had already gotten him some other things, I wanted to save the hinted item as a treat. I didn’t know if he remembered that he hinted at it, but I knew he’d enjoy it.
What could warm the heart and tummy again and again on a batch of cold winter days better than a gift certificate from your favorite bakery?
The gift of listening is a gift that keeps on giving too. It invites the speaker to trust there’s a set of warm and welcoming ears waiting for them whenever they need to tell the story that’s on their heart. We lighten each other’s loads when we allow each other to unload the stuff that’s weighing us down. No interruptions. No unsolicited sermons. Just attentiveness that speaks wordless love.
To listen to someone when they share what’s in their cellar is to shine a light so they don’t trip on their way out. To listen without offering words of our own hangs fairy lights around a heavy heart so joy shines in.
And now, I’d like to close with a poem:
Help us believe so bright
That darkness is burned away
And overcome by Your Light
As we pray and obey
Help us step into the roles
You have for us this day
So we fulfill godly goals
In a glorious way.