By Jen Jang
Have you ever considered listening to be an art? Consider if you know some “bad listeners” and “good listeners.” There’s a difference, right? Listening, like an art, involves finesse, work, and your heart. The good news is that we can all become better listeners. Like an introductory art course, this post will review the general method and vision for the art of listening. Although we won’t go over specific listening strategies, we will lay a foundation that will help us better understand and utilize specific strategies later. When our method and goal are correct, then the practical skills of listening will follow.
First, let’s start with our general method of listening. As Ed Welch says, you want to retell the story of the person you are talking to. What do we mean by “story?” By nature, man is a meaning-maker. We are always interpreting our world and fitting these interpretations into a story. When someone is speaking, we are listening to different pieces of a story that they are weaving together. As we listen, we can ask ourselves how is this person interpreting their situation, themselves, or God? For example, a woman in her late 20’s may have subconsciously labeled herself as a failure throughout her life. So when she finds herself in depression, she may subconsciously use her depression as further evidence for how she is a failure and how God must be disappointed in her. The storyline most likely won’t be laid out clearly, but if you listen for it you will begin to see it more and more.
Second, our goal in listening is to know and love others. By understanding someone’s story, we are coming to know them more fully. Now how can we also love deeply? We can love deeply by hearing and accepting a person’s story without judgement. We fear being fully known, because we fear being rejected, isolated, judged, and shamed. To deeply love someone, therefore, is to hear their story, know them fully, and still love them with a patient, gentle, and committed love.
In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
By listening well, we are fully knowing someone and truly loving them. By fully knowing someone and truly loving them, we are reflecting the love of God. (We see this love described in Psalm 139!)
My hope is that you are beginning to see the beauty in the art of listening. Listening is not an inactive, dormant art. It is an active, dynamic avenue through which we can reflect the love of God. God knows us intimately and perfectly. He knows our wounds and weaknesses. He knows our sins and thoughts. Yet, he loves us intimately and perfectly. Our God, who is abounding in love, knows you fully and loves you deeply. Take some time to reflect on how this Holy God fully knows you and loves you truly, so that the next time you meet with someone you can listen with a heart like His.