I volunteer at a crisis center. We take calls from people who suffer with personal issues—unemployment, family conflict, depression, illness and abuse. Many callers have cut off ties with people around them due to hurtful experiences. They reach out to us to connect and feel affirmed. Most thank us for being there for them.
While it may seem that ‘just listening’ is a passive act, more and more I am convinced that good listening is an active act of love.
Active listening is an act of love because it requires us to focus on another person’s inner world, not our own. It means paying attention to not just what they say, but how they say it to pick up emotions that lay beneath the words. I have learned that discerning and naming emotions takes effort and skill.
Supportive listening is also loving because it requires us to set aside our agenda so we can be ‘filled up’ with the hurting person’s message. Like Jesus who “made himself nothing” (Phil 2:7), making our agenda small allows us to identify with the sufferings of others. Such humility allows us to listen sacrificially.
Listening well is also loving because sometimes it leads to getting involved in other people’s lives. “Oh wow, that must be really hard. Is there anything I can do to help?” Being available in practical ways is yet one more way we can serve with the hands of Jesus.
In the verse John writes “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth”. It is more than coincidence that listening well is not about waiting to speak. It is not about giving our opinion. Rather, listening is an action we use to learn the truth about a person’s life so we can know and love them as they are.
Dear God, thank you for this challenge to show love to others in our actions, not just words. Help us to be more willing to listen to family and friends who struggle. Let them know our great love for them by entering into their world, by being present, and offering to help. May we imitate Jesus’ emptying of himself as we put our agenda aside so we may love well by listening well.
Throughout the Day: As you interact with others, look for opportunities to go beyond simple exchanges such as “how are you?” and “Fine.” Prompt people to share more and be willing to listen to their heart.
Photo Credit: Chichi Onyekanne on Unsplash