Years ago I helped escort a group of teens on an educational tour of Washington, D.C. Our hotel was on the outskirts of the city, so we rode a bus into a central location and walked to the various sites. This required a lot of walking. Some of the chaperones seemed to have more stamina than the kids.
One day I overheard a teen behind me complaining to one of the adults. He was enjoying the trip but the weather was hot, the days were long, he was tired, and his feet hurt. Mrs. Williams was at a loss on how to help the boy. Finally she said, “Well, Marty, what can I do about these things?”
The astute youngster replied, “I know you can’t do anything, but could you please listen?”
Mrs. Williams smiled and said, “Yes, Marty. I can listen.” Marty grinned and then gave her a hug.
Listening requires active, mental participation in what someone is saying. Listening connects us with others.
James 1:19 tells us everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak. On the surface, it appears the wisdom of this passage is protecting us from a faux pas like putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. But if we dig deeper we know that simply holding one’s tongue is not listening. Listening requires not only restraint from speaking but also active, mental participation in what someone is saying. Listening connects us with others.
People have an innate need to be listened to. Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier wrote, “It is impossible to overemphasize the immense need humans have to be really listened to, to be taken seriously, to be understood…”
I must admit my listening skills are weak at best. Too often what people say drifts into a drone of “blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…” I look into their eyes, nod my head in compliance and whisper “uh-huh” a few times while I think about what I want for dinner. But that really isn’t listening, is it? There is a difference in faking interest and taking interest. Listening is a conscious choice. It’s a courtesy, yea verily, even an act of love we extend to others.
In its purest form, listening is a ministry. We minister to others by listening to them. We are giving them our time and our attention. We don’t have to offer solutions. We don’t have to fix people or their frustrations. In fact, many times people will come to conclusions about problems on their own, just by talking it through.
Listening is a way of saying, “You are important to me. I value your opinion. I empathize with what you are going through.” Or in simpler terms, listening to others says, “I care about you!”
Barbara Dahlgren, 2012