The Art of Listening

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak” (James 1:19a).
Human anatomy seems to support God’s opinion on this matter, when we realize that He gave us two ears and one mouth.  Could it be that He wants us to listen as least twice as much as we speak?  When we talk too much and listen too little, we communicate to others that our ideas are much more important than theirs.  James wisely advises us to reverse the process.
How?  By putting a stopwatch on our conversations and keeping track of how much we talk versus how much we listen.  When we listen to others, we place value upon them.  Few things say, “I care,” like the finely tuned art of listening.
Have you ever talked to someone who never made eye contact and who looked past or around you the entire time?  How did it make you feel?  Embarrassed?  Insulted?  Undervalued?  Recently I engaged a man who talked fast and furiously.  I tried to contribute to the conversation; however, he never came up for air! 
Later I was amused when he said, “You’ll never know how much I enjoyed talking with you.”  I thought to myself, “You’re right!”   That man needs to learn how to listen!
As a hospice chaplain, I spend my days listening to people who are at the jumping off place.  Their impending death drives them to ask questions and to ponder end-of-life issues.  In short, they need a listening ear – someone who cares without judging, preaching or offering opinions. 
During these visits I’ve discovered that active listening often brings solace and relief.  Regrets and unresolved life issues fade into peaceful oblivion as individuals “get things off their chest.”  One of the Apostle James concluding remarks says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other that you may be healed” (5:16a).   
We, of course, understand that Christ has made it possible for us to go directly to God to receive forgiveness.  But confessing our sins (faults) to each other still has an important place in our lives.  Good listeners many times offer troubled hearts assurance of God’s pardon.
A man received a terminal diagnosis from his doctor and subsequently struggled with a specific unconfessed sin of his youth.  He paid for his high school girlfriend’s two abortions and carried the weight of his guilt for over six decades.  He often drowned his pain in alcohol. 
I will never forget the day I heard his heart-wrenching story.  I listened without interruption for one hour, and then assured him of God’s offer to forgive.  A few days before he died, he held my hand and thanked me for listening.  He died in peace.

As we enter a new year, let’s purpose to become better listeners.  Look for practical ways to develop your listening skills.  Offer good eye contact and focus.  Listen carefully.  By doing so, you place value upon another life that may desperately need to feel your loving concern.



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