Are you a good listener? Do you really listen when someone is talking to you? Do you ever listen to that little voice in your head? Can you hear God’s voice and really listen to what God is telling you? Is yours a listening heart, open to all possibilities? Can you listen beyond words with all your senses? Have you ever heard the sound of silence? That’s a lot to think about. Are you ready to engage in a listening lesson and find out how you can be a better listener?
You might think that listening is one of the easiest things to do. Actually, hearing is easy, listening, well, not so much. Listening well is a skill that is learned and requires effort, discipline and intentionality. There are several levels of listening and each requires a different skill set. At some point, we all listen at different levels.
The lowest level of listening is basically ignoring the person we are “listening” to. We are not really listening at all, letting distractions override anything the person talking to us might be saying. Not much better is to pretend to listen to someone whether in person or via some technical device. Offering the occasional “ok,” “that’s nice” or some other minor acknowledgement in the attempt to show that we are actually the recipient of a conversational thought is insulting to the speaker. All of us have been guilty of this type of listening.
We have also engaged in selective listening where we perk up and pay attention only when the speaker begins talking about something we like and agree with or dislike and disagree with. We might think we are listening carefully, but our attention is only half hearted as we are really only looking for an opportunity to inject our own thoughts and perspective. We have become preoccupied with ourselves and instead of concentrating on what is being said, we become focused on formulating a response. Either way, we have been selfish listeners, whether we agree with what the other person is saying or worse, have been judgmental, often rejecting the other person’s point of view simply because it is not our own. This listening is really ineffective as we listen with half an ear instead of two. It shows our impatience and inattentiveness as we presume to think our time is more valuably spent elsewhere, doing something else, and arrogant in the belief that we already know everything the speaker could possibly offer to us. We inadvertently or intentionally have ultimately diminishing their existence.
The most productive type of listening is empathetic listening where we give our undivided attention to the speaker. This level of listening requires patience, focus, effort, discipline, concentration and intentionality on the part of the listener. Good listening bestows value on the speaker. It gives worth to their existence as well as true affirmation of their importance. This type of listening shows that we believe others are more significant than ourselves and that our heart and mind are open enough to receive and appreciate what the speaker is saying. Mastering this type of listening prepares us to reach the highest level of listening, listening for God.
This ultimate level of listening, listening to God, is powerful. Do you think it is possible to actively listen for God’s voice? We know that rarely, if ever, we will audibly hear God’s voice. That does not mean that God’s presence is not available to us in some way. On the giving end, sometimes opportunity puts us in the right place at the right time when we might find ourselves as ministers of God. Listening to someone in their time of need is a gift God gives us to help each other. In this instance don’t feel the need to rush in and fix things, be judgmental, give advice, interrupt or jump in with seemingly brilliant thoughts of wisdom. Just listen. The person to whom you are listening will bask in the experience of simply being listened to and feel affirmed. On the receiving end, we have to humbly recognize that we alone do not have all the answers. The help we get to sort out our thoughts and feelings comes directly from listening to God. I’ll bet you are wondering how to do that. There is no magic formula for listening to God. God’s faithfulness, power and love come to us in countless ways. Trust me, it does happen.
For those of you who do not already know, Sara and Heather moved to Maui, Hawaii on July 1st. After much thought, consideration and I’m sure input from the Holy Spirit, they quit their jobs and sold their house in Baltimore. They found new jobs on Maui, shipped their stuff, two dogs, a cat and a car and are now living in an apartment on the grounds of Seabrook Hall, the Episcopal High School where Sara will be Chaplain, as well as teacher, preacher, counselor and taking on other roles as they present themselves. On the night before they flew to Hawaii, we met them for dinner near Dulles airport. After we said our good-byes, Mike and Evan got in the van and Colin and I got in Sara’s car (which will now reside at our house for a bit), to drive home. I had not been a passenger in Sara’s car for a while so I looked around. The first thing I noticed when Colin turned the car on was the clock. It read 7:33 pm. As parents we wonder and hope the decisions our children make are sound and although we fully supported Sara’s decision to move, any heavenly affirmation in that direction would be wonderful. Every time we see 7:33 on the clock we think of Sara because she was born at 7:33 pm. I took it as a good sign. Affirmation, check!
If you have not experienced the voice of God, be patient. You just have to have a willingness to hear that little voice in your head and be open to whatever means God will use to get through to you. However God wants to speak to you, you have to hear it through the sound of silence. Be quiet. Don’t speak. Be aware. Just listen.