I have a fault that I openly admit. It is one that affects many of us. It is a fault that stands in the way of relationships and often causes pain or superficiality or distrust or disagreements and misunderstandings within those relationships. It can be a relationship ender. Here is what I would call my fault: “I can’t hear you because I am not listening to you with my heart.” Can you relate?
We listen through those two funny looking appendages attached to either side of our heads. I, because I have throughout my life been chided about the size of those appendages, listen well. But, I don’t hear what is being said or asked of me. That’s because, while I may be a listener, I am not a good listener. I don’t always listen with my heart.
Jesus was a great listener. He always listened with His heart. Think of the times in the parables when someone would approach Him with a loaded question while trying to trick Him into falling prey into a trap. He would almost always answer their question with a question designed to provoke further discourse through which He could not only answer the original question, but also provide meaningful discourse which provided a teachable moment. By listening with His heart instead of just His ears, He avoided escalated controversy, He avoided being judgmental, He remained humble, and He always had the perfect answer. You might be saying “Yes, but He was Jesus after all”, to which I would agree. That, however, is but part of the message. The fact is, He was modeling good listening of the kind that we find in the book of James:
James 1:19 ESV
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
How might we, and I, begin to become better listeners? There have been volumes written about the topic, but I offer three simple things that are easy to do—things that will help us to hear more with our hearts than with our ears:
- Focus on what is being said to you instead of thinking what your response will be. That way, you are staying present to the one speaking, and thus you will be able to recognize anything said that you don’t fully understand (it may be something that ignites emotions that need not be present in the conversation). Ask “What did you mean by that?”
- This indicates to the other person that you are hearing them.
- It also indicates that you are not on the defensive.
- There is a backstory or agenda of some sort in most conversations. Often, they are hidden or behind the scenes and not fully in the context of the conversation. Sometimes when we hear an opinion or strong point in a conversation, we can easily take offense or become defensive, simply because we do not know what is behind it. It could be something quite inconsequential that we are allowing to stir our emotions. A good listener will ask “How did you come to that conclusion?”.
- This indicates to the other person that you are hearing them and that you are interested in what they are saying.
- It also diffuses any emotions in you that may have been stirred by what you thought you heard but perhaps didn’t actually hear.
- Lastly, ask yourself this question throughout the conversation: What if I’m wrong?”
- It seems like a lot to ask of yourself to ask that question regularly. And, perhaps it is. But without asking it, aren’t we simply carrying on with the delusion that we are generally right, and therefore the other must be wrong?
- To not ask it stands in the way of your efforts to be humble.
Like most life lessons, learning this one, hearing with the heart, won’t necessarily be an easy journey. Most of us, myself included, aren’t used to the listening process in such a manner. But, must of us are teachable, and we know that lessons are learned over time and through practice, practice, practice.
This writing came because of some timely sharing from a loving Brother in Christ. He perhaps knew that I was saying words unspoken—“I can’t hear you.”
Proverbs 19:20 ESV
20 Listen to advice and accept instruction,
that you may gain wisdom in the future.
A Listener’s Prayer
Father, since birth I have been told that You listen, that you hear. My faith in You causes me to know that, believe that, accept that, and yes, desire it. I pray expecting that You will hear, and I have come to realize that what I am asking is not always within Your plan for me. That tells me that You hear with Your heart. Lord, since I am made in Your image, help me to listen, not with my ears, but with my heart so that through my interactions with all people I may present myself as godly and humble. Amen