This really is for men only. If that’s not you, please stop here. Now that it’s just us guys, let’s start with a quick quiz. If you’re not familiar with the origin, try anyway. Nothing to lose.
Here’s the question. It comes from the Book of Genesis.
It’s the end of a long, difficult week and Sarah is deeply distressed. Her husband, Abraham, suddenly gets some unsolicited advice from the Almighty.
Which of the choices below do you think best represents the counsel offered to Abraham?
- All that your wife asks for, give it to her?
- All that your wife tells you, listen to her?
- All that troubles your wife, fix it for her?
If you answered (1) or (3), you’re like most people: wrong.
God’s guidance wasn’t to give advice, solve a problem, or round up the herd. His advice was “to listen.”
Abraham understood that heeding that advice wasn’t just about using his ears. Listening to a loved one is spiritual too. The ears are a good beginning; listening with the heart is also required.
Why is this for men only, you may wonder? Because generally speaking (but certainly not always), women know more about listening to us and each other than we do about listening to them.
From their earliest experiences, women typically learn that people want to know how they feel, why they’re sad, distressed or even angry. Men often grow up with very different responses to our feelings. So we tend to do what we know and distance when we don’t know what to do.
A common assumption believed by many men (and some women too) goes like this, “If you’re in pain, I believe I should be able to fix it.”
That assumption comes with a lot of pressure, especially as we get older and find ourselves often facing the pain of loved ones in situations when we either don’t know how to fix it or can’t fix it.
So what tends to happen?
Men who feel like we are supposed to fix things for others can feel guilty when we can’t. Does that mean we raise our hands in surrender? Not likely. More often, we distance, perhaps initially because we feel guilty and then, quite often, blaming whoever made us feel guilty.
About 2,500 years ago, a Greek slave offered a different quiz.
According to Aesop’s fable, the Wind and the Sun found themselves debating about a traveler wearing a heavy coat as he was walking by the ocean. The Wind said to the Sun: “Let us wager which one of us can get his coat off first.” The Sun accepted.
As the Wind blew harder and harder, the traveler wrapped his coat more tightly. Several times, it looked like the jacket might be blown right off. But the harder the Wind blew, the more the traveler held. The Sun waited quietly for the Wind to pause its fury. In moments, the Sun gradually caressed the traveler, embracing him in radiant warmth. Without hesitating, the traveler removed his coat to bask in Sun’s comfort.
While there are many valuable skills couples learn in evidence-based marriage and relationship education classes, these two timeless lessons offer a powerful foundation.
Learning to listen with our hearts is often the most valuable gift to a loved one, especially during periods of distress.
Learning to be the nonreactive, non-judgmental warmth of the Sun instead of the fury of the Wind encourages confiding, connection, and the gift of truly witnessing the life of another.
Our Sabbath offers a unique invitation to practice both.