A student had a eureka moment. Key to care and counsel, he wrote, is listening. His words warmed my instructor’s heart. He was not saying, only listen. Instead, he gave listening a place of prominence in daily life.
I know another man who was a pastor. He asked his wife the same question every year: “If I could change one thing, what would it be?” Every year his wife had the same response: “You don’t listen.”
I just asked my wife if I listen. She responded “yes . . .[ten second pause] fairly well.” I decided to stop there, before she thought more about it and descended into “no.” Confession and repentance, for me, will have to be essential if I am going to grow as a listener.
How often do we need to be told to be better listeners? The exhortation can seem trite from overuse, or trite because we think we know how to listen—but we don’t listen well. So much of what might appear as listening is little more than one person presenting a personal concern and the other person, in response, presenting a personal concern on a similar topic.
Try to remember the last time someone really listened to you. This means something much more than another person being able to recite your main points. It means that the other person understood what was important to you in the midst of those facts. It means that what is important to you became important to the person who was listening to you. With that in mind, has anyone ever listened to you? If you can quickly identify those conversations, you are blessed. If you can’t, the experience is too common.
Because we want to grow as listeners, let’s define it further.
Listening is . . . a skill. We grow in it. If we have no agenda for growth, we won’t grow.
Listening is . . . a conversation. Though the listener might say little, the speaker perceives it as a conversation because the listener is responsive.
Listening is . . . attention to one person, or, perhaps, one group. The listener is all in—not off in the future preparing a response, not looking at a phone. If distracted, the listener loudly announces that something else is more important.
Listening is . . . hospitality. It is an invitation: Come, relax, please speak, you are an honored guest.
Listening is . . . compassion. It is love that hopes to bear both the burdens and joys of others.
Scripture is filled with listening. We listen to the Lord. He listens to us. We listen to each other. The kingdom of heaven is filled with lots of important words and lots of listening. Samuel’s words can help us. “Speak, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:10). Samuel is speaking to the Lord here, but if we are saying this in one relationship we are going to say it in others.
How do you want to grow in listening? With whom might you discuss listening and your thoughts about developing more skill?