Ears To Hear — And A Heart To Listen

I would imagine if we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that from time to time we fall into the habit of “listening” to others, but not really listening to them. Being a good listener does not simply entail the physical act of hearing someone speak, but of focusing our attention on the person’s words, emotions, and expressions. To be a good listener, we must not just hear with our ears, but listen with our heart.

I’ve been on both sides of a conversation, as I’m sure we all have. I’ve been a good listener and a bad listener. I’ve had people listen to me well, and not so well at all.  When we focus our energies on the person speaking to us, we show them that they are valued, respected, and worthy of our time.  In a world where people are becoming increasingly self-consumed and cruel toward one another, imagine the refreshment and encouragement we could bring to the lives of others by showing them we care about what they have to say…that we care about them.

I love what the psalmist said in Psalm 116, “I love the LORD, because He has heard my voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.” (Psalm 116:1-2) Knowing this, that the God who created the heavens and earth and everything in them hears our voice and inclines His ear toward us, is astounding. Not only does He hear us, but He is good, and the way He responds to our pleas and petitions is good. That alone could be enough, but God has chosen to use us as instruments to extend his goodness, grace, and mercies to others.

The Apostle Paul calls us to be “imitators of God.” (Ephesians 5:1) As imitators of God, we also should make a practice of inclining our ear to others.

I’ve had a few conversations recently that made me realize we often have no idea what a person is going through. We all experience trials, suffering, and hardship in this broken world. Some seasons bring steady waters, and others bring crashing waves, sometimes that are seemingly endless.  What if we made ourselves available to those that are in the midst of a storm?  What if we showed interest in other people’s lives and became a trustworthy friend they could turn to?  I can only imagine that our trials would not be as severe, our pain would not be as intense, and our brokenness would be restored much quicker.

I’m the type of person that likes to be given specific things I can apply when I want to make a change. So, here are some steps we can take (if we haven’t already) to be better listeners and therefore impact others’ lives for good:

1) Be fully present. This includes clearing our minds, looking away from our phones, computers, tablets, etc., and avoiding multitasking.

2) Don’t judge the person. I’ve often heard people spout out the verse, “Don’t judge others or you will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) However, I believe this verse is wrongly used on a frequent basis simply because a person doesn’t want to give up a destructive behavior/lifestyle. As humans, made in God’s image, we were given intelligent minds to make judgements about situations, circumstances, and people. For example, is this situation safe or not safe? Is this person a good influence or not? Judgements must be made. It is a good thing to make sober judgements. However, we should not cast judgement (in a demeaning way) on people, particularly when they are confiding in us.

3) Show we are listening. We can do this by nodding, repeating what the person has said, and being mindful of our body language (aka looking at them in the eye, turning toward them rather than away from them, etc.).

4) Listen to learn. We do this by asking questions and showing the other person we are more interested in what they have to say than we are in expressing our own “interesting” ideas.

5) Respond appropriately. There are some people who want to talk just to talk, but more often than not, I believe people share what’s going on in their lives because they need encouragement and sometimes even tangible help. We should try to discern the person’s needs and respond in ways that support their needs to best of our abilities.

I would add that praying with and/or for others is a powerful practice that we should not neglect. My analytical self often defaults to thinking through situations, whether my own or someone else’s, but sometimes I forget to pray! What is that?! Counsel from us should never supersede the work of God that often comes through faith-filled prayer.

So, let’s not settle on following the cultural tide of being so interested in self that we become disengaged, poor listeners to those that need us most.  Let’s strive to be extraordinary listeners who are full of empathy and compassion – ready to extend our ear and our heart to others. We never know when the roles will reverse, and we will need someone to be there for us.

Just from the little time I have been serving Covenant Village, I can say first-hand that Covenant Village is a “listening Village.” Employees and residents alike have been extremely welcoming and gracious.  They have shown interest in not only me, but in one another. I have seen the lengths that many residents and staff go to in showing appreciation for one another and it’s truly inspiring!

Keep those ears attentive and hearts open—it will undoubtedly cultivate that sense of community and belonging that we all so earnestly desire!

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