Listening: A Catalyst for Change
Bill defined change, exposed our beliefs and actions when facing change, and then finally, he showed us what really matters to God when we confront change. When I think of change, the word that comes to mind is LISTENING. Change does not happen without someone listening— either to God or others. That seems fairly basic, and yet when I asked a group of my favorite counselors to talk about listening, after much give and take, one responded very definitively, “It’s hard!”
What makes listening hard, difficult?
My mind immediately went from the counseling arena to the pleasant thought of greeting my twelve-year-old granddaughter; she will often exclaim, with an inflection in her voice that can only be that of a teen, “Gr-am, you are spif-fy!” Hugging her, with a smile-filled response and inflection that can only be that of a more-than-proud-grandmother is usually, “Noel, you are swag!” Spiffy and swag represent our generational exchange. The emphasis is on exchange—Noel adopting the age-old expression and I the age-young one. This listening is not hard and yet it did involve change. Our vocabulary became a way to derive and give delight, as well as honor one another, which ultimately changed our relationship.
How did this change come about?
Listening happened. Prior to making this part of our greeting, the words alone, spiffy and swag, provoked questions about meaning, emphasis, and time derivation. We have exchanged thoughts about the dark ages of my teen years and about what kids do today, the commencement of Noel’s teen years. It is easy to listen. We care. It brings us just a little closer. As any grandmother would agree, this is not hard, it is a privilege. Is listening in a counseling room, a church setting, or any other relationship different?
Listening almost always changes relationships.
So what is listening? One dictionary defines listening as: “the act of hearing attentively.” As we journey through God’s word, He often instructs us to listen! We have wonderful examples of those who listened well: Moses, Elijah, and Mary.
Moses heard God audibly, “… the Lord called to him…” (Ex. 19:3)
Elijah stood on a mountain and listened. He was surprised that God spoke “in a gentle whisper…” (1 Kings 19:12)
Don’t you think when we finally get to hear, really hear His voice, it will send chills down our spines? If I want to whisper something to my four-year-old grandson Landon, he will begin to respond before I even cup my hand to his ear. He shrugs up his shoulders, his eyes widen, and his little heart is spell bound with anticipation. Do you think Landon and Elijah listened in the same fashion? Do you want to listen to God’s whisper? Do or will you do it with the belief that something body chilling will happen? Jesus tells Martha, who complains about needing help with the ‘to dos’, that her sister Mary is doing the “one thing that is needed … listening.” (Luke 10:39)
Listening to God is significant.
Listening brings us closer to Him. It allows us the privilege of understanding who He is! Listening to others allows us this same privilege; it deepens our relationships. So why is it so difficult?
Years ago, I attended a week-long lay counseling seminar hosted by Dan Allender. One of the agenda items was listening skills. Dan handed us a sheet of paper with lots of open squares. Each square had a one or two word phrase written above a box. The boxes were in categories like emotional peaks which included a box for each of the following words: anger, anxiety, guilt. I took one look at the sheet and asked, “Would you like to know about a counselee’s anger or mine?” Dan’s answer was, “Exactly!”
What did Dan want me to hear in his response? I spent the week of training trying to fill out my squares and wanting to get it right. The only emotional peak that I could truly identify was annoyance. Having to get it right precluded listening. Listening became difficult because my focus was on the assignment and not on listening.
Fears, to dos, agendas, power-struggles, over commitments
distract and keep us from being attentive.
Is this what makes it hard?
My favorite counselors engrossed in the discussion of listening were heated, definitive, pragmatic, enlightening, encouraging but far from conclusive: the teacher gave definitions; the prophet was smirking about what God had in store. The topic of the function of listening developed into thoughts on ‘being heard’ and ‘being known’. When the discussion got uncomfortably heated, the encourager kindly said, “if I understand what each of you is saying.” The sweet part of the discussion was that all had one thread in common and as one woman put it, listening is a God thing.
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (I Corinthians 12:11). Each was listening, through their God given spiritual gifts. Is this what makes it hard? How can listening be hard when God is at the center?
Listening is not hard when we enjoy the relationships.
It isn’t hard when we share questions and have enlightened discussions. But, listening can be taxing when our minds and hearts are filled with clutter, yet even then it is not hard. Listening becomes hard when we are involved in the act of hearing attentively. In this act, God allows us not only hearing with our ears but with a sight that sees and a passion that feels beyond our limited capabilities. This is the precious, painful privilege of relationship. We listen and we want change. This is what is so very hard!
We listen and what we actively hear is the heart of every believer that is broken, every captive in darkness, every prisoner confined by the pain of grief and days of sorrow; we hear of the deep wounds, the abandonment, the powerlessness, the betrayals, and the cries of the soul wanting to be heard.