2AM friends who will listen to your woes? Why not!
Jeffery Tan // December 22, 2021, 9:46 pm
Cultivating the art of listening may be an unorthodox method of support, but it can be a powerful way for us to personify the apostle Paul’s exhortation to "bear one another's burdens". Photo by Kylo on Unsplash.
If there is one valuable lesson (and there are many) I have learnt from two years of living with Covid – beyond the continual need to look upwards to God – it is the necessity of having a community around us who will journey with us through life.
Particularly during a pandemic.
Radical as it sounds, we need to unleash another type of “pandemic” – the widespread occurrence of the art of listening to and supporting each other as a connected community.
It’s a worthwhile thought for us to mull over this Christmas season. After all, it can be a powerful way for us to personify the apostle Paul’s exhortation to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ”. (Galatians 6:2)
We’ve been on a wild and seemingly endless rollercoaster ride of pandemic-related issues – from leaders not having all the answers to the multitude of questions on the vaccines, to Covid’s real impact on countries and economies, to how best to survive this once-in-a-century challenge with lives and livelihoods intact.
Many of us are possibly still feeling nervous, anxious, overstretched, and even overwhelmed.
Personally, I have benefitted from willing myself to listen more – to others, as well as to myself. It’s more important than I had realised.
Effective listening involves slowing down and taking the time to hear people out about the challenges they are facing personally and professionally. We did have these sorts of conversations pre-Covid but, truthfully, we were often rushed then, tailoring our listening to fit our busy schedules.
Effective listening involves slowing down and taking the time to hear people out about their challenges.
Over the last two years, I have listened intently. And, beyond the expected litany of personal struggles, I have heard how many with mental anxieties, physical and health challenges are barely coping with the demands the pandemic is exerting on them.
Loved ones and friends have shared how they have been dealing with their fear of being infected by Covid.
Those in mourning have poured out their grief at the loss of a companion who died from the virus. I was reminded that each death is not just a statistic. It was somebody’s family member or friend, who will be dearly missed.
I also had cause to pause and reflect on relationships, triggered by the tragic news of a friend’s son taking his own young life in a foreign land, unable to cope with the vicissitudes brought on by Covid.
Trying to offer my condolences seemed inadequate, especially when I heard about the logistical difficulty in securing travel approvals for the body’s transport for burial. This took weeks.
My friend’s pain was heart-wrenching to be present to.
I also listened to myself express uncertainty and frustration in my own life.
I have been unable to visit with my elder child and his wife for over two-and-a-half years, and I have had to watch my other son manage the Covid-related postponement of his wedding three times before he finally was able to hold a small ceremony in the middle of this year – without my elder son’s in-person presence, which saddened me.
One aspect of listening to others is understanding their needs and being able to respond to them.
Likewise, I have not seen my extended family at the usual Christmas and Chinese New Year gatherings. I have not met the new additions to the clan in person nor carried them in my arms. All interactions have been online.
One important aspect of listening to others is understanding their needs and being able to respond to them. Often, the best we are able to do is just to be there and offer a kind and encouraging word.
This may seem inadequate or totally lacking, but some whom I have journeyed with have shared how much it means, that someone had just been there to listen. This may sound counter-intuitive to those of us who are used to doing things – if only to satisfy ourselves that our activity would somehow be a source of help.
Back to my suggestion of being part of a support community sharing personal struggles and triumphs: I recently joined a group of fathers in the Elijah 7000 movement.
Among the objectives of 2AM Friends is to listen to one another’s struggles in an unvarnished form.
Part of its programme is the 3-2-1 initiative: Meeting in groups of three for two hours, once a month. Among the objectives of doing so is to listen to one another’s struggles in an unvarnished form – warts and all – and being an encouragement nonetheless.
The goal is to cultivate a circle of “2AM friends” – a small, special group that will go beyond the usual friendships. These are individuals we can call upon for help and a listening ear at the most inconvenient hours. Hence the name, “2AM friends”.
As we look forward to the new year, we realise the many Covid-related issues that have impacted us are likely to remain. At the time of writing this, it’s become clear that the omicron variant of Covid has the potential to lead us back to the time when we first encountered the alpha variant.
Let’s not forget, regardless of that and any other future Covid variants, we have the Alpha and Omega with us, and His eternal promise is: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6) Hopefully, neither will our group of 2AM friends.
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