I am taking an online class that meets one weekend per month on Zoom, and this past weekend was the fifth of the 24-sessions. The class is training me to be a spiritual director, which is a ministry that I am considering for after retirement from pastoral ministry. This session was on listening.
Some people think that I am a good listener, but I’m really not! My mind races from thought to thought, and while I may appear to be listening to you, I may instead be thinking about what I’m going to say next, do next, plan next, or what I wish I was saying, doing, or planning! Not all the time, but often enough that I realize that I very much need to hone my listening skills if I’m to ever be a decent spiritual director!
Listening is a ministry. One of the deep longings of the heart is to be seen, heard and recognized as a beloved child of God. We might know these things intellectually, but we need to accept them as true in our hearts. This can happen when we experience someone who listens to us deeply, without judgment. Listening is a central element of love. A person who does this for us helps us to receive the same from God. That’s why listening is a ministry.
Listening is not just hearing; it is hearing AND understanding; it is hearing AND validating; it is hearing AND acknowledging the presence of an image-bearer of God (which all humans are). But to listen to another is not easy! It requires a conscious decision to set aside our own agenda and give ourselves fully to the ministry of listening. Someone has said listening “is like trying to get into another’s shoes while they are still wearing them!”
But what a gift! What a mercy!
God listens to us, but we don’t always realize it or appreciate it. So, when another human being listens to us, in the context of ministry (a “God-moment”), it can convey to us the experience of God listening to us. And when we come to the place where we know that we know that we know God is listening, it takes us to a whole new level in our spiritual lives.
And because God listens, we, too, ought to be listeners!
So, practice listening to one another in the context of God’s presence and see what God reveals to your heart. Make it a spiritual discipline to truly listen to someone every day. Make that conscious decision to listen. See if by listening to others you don’t find that your realization of God’s listening to you becomes a more present reality.