Have you ever been talking with someone, and as they listened, you felt like you were the only person in the room? The listener had no sense of needing to be elsewhere. 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 listening? The look in their eyes told you that they were thinking about something else. They gave off a sense of urgency that they needed or wanted to be getting something else done. How did that feel?
“Being listened to is so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference.” (David Augsburger)
One of the greatest gifts we can give to another is our undivided presence. We will become memorable in people’s lives if we begin to listen without distraction, because not many people do. As David Augsburger points out, listening is one of the ultimate ways to show 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 for you to slow down your inner pace as you converse 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 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. This is the time for empathy. 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. God 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.
Resist the temptation to problem-solve. It is easy for us to move directly into problem-solving or advice-giving mode. Watch out for this tendency. 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. Listening to the person and at the same time listening to God—this is an art form we can learn. As you listen, remain open to the heart of God. How might God feel toward this person? What might God desire for their life?
Respond with invitations and questions. When you respond, try to do so in a way that shows you really heard them. Let your response be filtered through the question “What would God desire for them?” For example, you could replace “You know what you should do…” with “What is God inviting you to in this situation?” Then give them space to thoughtfully respond.
Obviously, there are different levels of conversation that we have with many people throughout the day. You can adapt these ideas to any level of conversation with friends, family, and coworkers. Even a casual exchange with the cashier at the grocery store can be an opportunity to practice being present, engaging with them, listening well, and offering up a silent 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 is working His own processes in each of our lives. We can learn to be true friends, mentors, and influencers as we cooperate with Him.
“The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears.” (Isaiah 50:4–5a)
How might you practice this kind of listening today?
Who are the people in your life who could use this kind of presence?
Peace to you today as you listen to others.