I spend about nine hours a day listening to other folks. It’s what I do. I listen for their requests, I listen for their needs, I listen for a way I can help them. I listen to their stories, their complaints, their jokes, their pain, their joys, their anecdotes, and their frustrations. It’s my job.
Listening takes practice, sensitivity to other people’s needs, and some skill. It also takes a willingness to just shut up and let the other person talk. Sometimes all folks need is someone who will listen.
They don’t need me to solve any problem, they don’t need me to interject myself into their lives, but they do need me to keep their confidences. They need to trust me not to put their business out on the street, around the office, or to drop hints about “how much they’ve grown” at some Missions dinner or small group. It’s part of the unspoken contract between us.
Listening also gives me an opportunity to pray for folks. Sometimes I tell them, sometimes I don’t. But their concerns make it to my prayer list. Even my enemies make it to my prayer list. It’s one way I get past my own nastiness.
You know what I mean->those hateful little judgements that run through your head when you see someone who irritates or offends you<–>those things. We all do it, consciously or unconsciously. Praying for folks, where the only person listening is the Lord, heals those nasty attitudes we carry around about folks.
When I put folks on my prayer list that I have some issue with, the first few times I pray aloud for them, I kind of choke over their names. It’s hard to pray for folks when all you feel is the shame or pain leftover from an interaction. But eventually, my heart softens and I find myself praying for them with compassion–real compassion–not the self-righteous patronization that comes with unforgiveness and sin.
One day recently, the Lord spoke to me, as I passed a woman I’ve judged harshly. He said to me, “you hypocrite–why aren’t you praying for her instead of judging her?” That night I added her to my prayer list.
Listening heals us all. The Father listens to us as we listen to each other.