“Mom, are you listening to me?”
My three kids were very good at parroting back to me my questions to them. I often would say loudly to them when they were toddlers, tweens or teens, “Hey, are you listening to me?” But sometimes they would ask it back. “Mom, are you listening to me?” And it usually occurred during a difficult circumstance one of them was facing.
Their question back to me meant they weren’t quite sure I was hearing them.
Now, years later, I am a new grandparent. I find myself coaching my daughter as she begins the journey of motherhood. I’ve had the privilege of visiting our granddaughter, Marlowe (born earlier in 2019), who lives hundreds of miles away from us.
Marlowe is very vocal about everything, whether she is happy or sad. At the beginning as a newborn, of course, her vocalizations were mostly distressed, which concerned my daughter as a new mother.
I remember saying early on, “She’s just trying to talk to you. Somewhere deep inside, she hopes you’re listening. When you respond, even if you can’t fix it right away, it reassures her that you are listening.”
Author and professor David Augsburger wrote in his book, Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard: “Being heard is so close to being loved, that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”
I think God is trying to teach me about listening lately, because it keeps coming up in my Bible study, reading, music and sermons.
My husband, Bill, and I are members of College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. In a recent sermon, Dr. Steve DeNeff spoke about the reality that he believes the Church in North America is declining because we are speaking too loudly.
I was intrigued, in part, because I had just read an article in The Atlantic, an op-ed by Peter Wehner called “The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity.” He believes the majority of voices are yelling so loudly because they believe their way of life is being threatened — and his opinion is that this is hurting their witness for Christ. The shouting is driving away those who might be searching for the Way, those who are trying to ask questions that can begin faith conversations, but they aren’t being heard. Those folks then feel relieved to leave the room.
It made me wonder where I might be shouting and not listening.
In my role in Global Partners, which offers support for the wellness of our missionaries, I listen to a lot of tough stuff. Leadership guru Stephen Covey said that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” I have had lots of lessons this past year in listening to understand, rather than listening to reply.
Many of our missionaries are working in tough places, some with tight security and under surveillance, some with the threat of bodily harm or deportation, some in isolation and loneliness, some struggling with how best to support their children’s education and development in places where there are no good answers.
Along with their circumstances in these faraway places of ministry, many are dealing with sorrow and tragedy of loved ones at home: a brother who committed suicide, a father or mother in a long hospice journey, an adult child in a disastrous marriage. Situations that leave us sometimes asking, “God are you even there? Are you listening?”
First John 5:13–15 tells me that God listening to me and me listening to God are kind of tied together. There is the need to verify first that I believe in God: He’s important to me. It also means that I can confidently approach him, according to his values. That means for him to hear me, I need to believe in him, and listen to him. Otherwise we become like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration, chattering away until God speaks clearly, ““This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5b).
So how does God speak to us?
- The Holy Spirit
- The Church/believers/liturgy
- Talents and gifts
- Worship and music
When I’m having trouble hearing God, I call out to him and seek him (see Jeremiah 29:13 and 33:3), asking for him to speak. But, first, it requires me to be still and listen.
How are you doing at listening to God and to others?