“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” (David of Augsburg)
A truly good listener is hard to find. Have you ever been with someone, and as they listened to you, you felt as though you were the only person in the room? The person listening had no sense of needing to be somewhere else. They had no sense of needing to interrupt you. They simply listened. How did that feel?
On the other hand, have you ever been chatting with someone and you could tell they were only half there? The look in their eyes told you that they were thinking about something else? They had a sense of urgency inside that they were supposed to be getting something else done. How did that feel?
One of the greatest gifts we can give another is our undivided presence, our ability to listen without distraction. We will become memorable in people’s lives if we begin to listen in this way…because not many people do it. As David of Augsburg pointed out, listening is an ultimate way to love. It demonstrates focus, attention and care.
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together)
What would it look like if you slowed down your inner pace as you were in conversation with someone else?
Here are a few ways you can practice being present and listening to another person:
Begin to quiet your mind as you listen. We all have our own distractions, but begin to practice setting aside your own inner whirlwind for a bit. Let the life of the person in front of you come to center stage. Quiet your own mind and tune in to what they are saying. Be at rest in their presence.
Let God’s love for the person enter into your heart. Remind yourself that this person is loved by God, exactly as they are. Let His reality become yours. As you listen, let your heart fill with love for them. Whatever they share, you know that God is already there. He is accomplishing His work in their life (even if they don’t know it). You can become a conduit for God’s love by opening yourself to Him as you listen. This cannot help but spill over onto the other person.
Don’t problem solve. It is easy for us to move directly into problem solving or advice giving mode. Watch out for a tendency to do this. Most people truly just need to be heard. As they are talking things out, they often stumble upon their own solution. Even if they don’t, your humble, listening ear is still a gift they may not find anywhere else. Don’t rob them of the beauty of simply sharing their life.
Think about what God might have on His heart for the person. This is an art form we can learn – hearing God and hearing the person at the same time. As you listen, remain open to the heart of God. How might He feel toward this person? What might He desire for their lives? When you respond, try to do so in a way that showed you really heard them. Let your response be filtered through, “What would God have for them?”
Obviously, there are different levels of conversations that we have with many people throughout our day. But even a casual conversation with the checker at the grocery store can be an opportunity to practice being present, being engaging, listening well and offering up a prayer for them.
The practice of listening can teach us to slow down inside, to focus our thoughts, to be humble and defer to others as they share. Listening can help us learn that we do not always have to be “on” or fix other people. The Lord Himself has people in their own processes. We can learn to be true friends, mentors and resources as we cooperate with Him.