In 1816, a young French physician named Rene Laennec fashioned a cylinder from a sheet of paper and used it to examine a patient. He discovered that internal sounds could be isolated and amplified through this tube, making medical examinations less intrusive and easier to interpret. His exciting discovery paved the way for the modern version of the stethoscope, an instrument that doctors continue to use every day—because they have learned that listening well is a powerful tool for healing.
Listening is an equally powerful tool for connecting not just with the human body, but with people’s hearts and minds as well. Many of us are familiar with the five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch/closeness. I would add a sixth: active listening. In our “me first” culture, listening is often interpreted as love. This was the first point of Pastor Marc’s message on Sunday. Listening communicates the love of God to people, and shows that we value them, not for what they can do for us, but for who they are.
When we listen, we surrender our desire to be heard and understood in the interest of understanding the other person. It is an act of humility and grace. When we make the effort (and it does require great effort!) to move toward the people who cross our path and listen to them, relationships are formed and deepened. Being known as a good listener will cause you to stand out in a self-centered, me first world.
When we demonstrate that we are truly seeking to understand people rather than merely trying to change their point of view, we create a safe environment for them to open up to us at a deeper level. Shel Silverstein, the poet and cartoonist, observed that “listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. The friends who listen to us are the ones we move toward. When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.”
In a culture full of people who would rather talk than listen, people are starved for someone who is willing to move into their life as a listener and learner.
Up until now, we have been in “stealth” mode with the 9 Arts. We can practice noticing others and praying for them without their knowing it. With listening, though, we now come face to face, and that is more difficult for most of us—myself included. I am not a good listener. When I am not speaking in a conversation, far too often I’m not listening, but determining what I will say the next time the other person takes a breath. I’m figuring out how to steer the conversation back to me.
As Pastor Marc said on Sunday, in our culture we need permission to speak into people’s lives, and the way we receive permission is by giving them the gift of listening. When people trust us to really listen to them, they will trust us with their questions. And when they trust us with their questions, we will know how to speak into their lives.
The assignment Marc gave for this week was to observe someone listening, and then to practice listening yourself. These simple “homework” assignments are not terribly involved, and will require only a small investment on our part; please take them seriously. Listening does require effort, and it does require practice. But the payoff is dramatic. We will learn to “speak” another love language—one that is important for the success of the 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations, and crucial for sharing God’s love with others.
Prayer: Lord, help us be quick to listen, and slow to speak. Give us compassion so that we can truly listen to others, and speak the language of your love and your healing into their lives. Amen.