I am undoubtedly being taken on a journey. It’s uncharted water, and in some part I feel like a passenger. The journey is about me though, and so I can’t be passive, nor can I come out the other side unchanged. In fact I’m convinced that I won’t even see the shore until I change. To extend the metaphor, this journey has seen wind and waves from many sides, but somehow they’re all pushing me to stay the course until it’s done. So, where have I sailed so far?
Learning to Listen
In the book named for him, James the brother of Jesus writes
My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19, CSB)
Over the last few months I’ve repeatedly encountered the importance of listening. Not just hearing, but active and present engagement with the object of my attention. At times, this is another person. Other times (hopefully often) it’s being alone with God. As I’ve come to learn lately, it’s also important to listen to my own emotions and physiological responses in this body God has given me. What follows is a high-level view of what I’m learning about better loving through listening.
Listening to Others
Jesus said that everything the bible teaches regarding Christian living can be summed up like this: love God, and love others (Luke 10:27). As those who are fellow image-bearers of the God we love and serve, the least I can do is give people my full attention. As much as possible, I shouldn’t be distracted by my surroundings. Never interrupt a face-to-face conversation to answer a text unless it is a family emergency, a previously scheduled appointment, or you are in the seventh grade. I know that I often hear – rather mishear – things, so I’m also practicing the habit of repeating things back to people in the form of “so what you’re saying is…” This has been infinitely helpful not only in the passing on of instruction, but also general care, counselling, and conflict resolution. Asking intelligent questions further demonstrates that love is present in my listening, because I’m listening to learn, and not to lecture.
Listening to Myself
God made us with bodies as well as spirits. Jesus came and indwelt human flesh, thus articulating that our bodies are important to him. The New Testament authors speak of the fact that God is bringing about the redemption of the whole of creation, which includes our physical bodies being transformed on that last Day. With this in mind, isn’t it logical to assert that God would be interested in (even use) our bodies? In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero unpacks the benefits of paying attention to a sudden rush of adrenaline, muscle tension, that knot in your stomach, or other physiological signals as our bodies know how we’re feeling before we do. Learning to listen to our own bodies helps our ongoing sanctification; why did that person or situation make me tense up? Perhaps there’s some underlying anger or unforgiveness that needs to be dealt with? I’m slowly finding the value in learning how listening to my body is intrinsically connected (by many ties) to knowledge of God and becoming who he has made me to be.
Listening to God
Finally, how often do I try to squeeze my time with God in amongst the other things on my schedule? We live in a world of distraction; a world of noise and tasks and things simultaneously vying for our attention. This is so true for most of us (read=me) that being fully present in the moment is something of a lost art. Do you read your bible on the same phone that is flooded with notifications from dozens of apps? Have you ever stopped praying to answer the front door or a summons from down the hall, then completely forgotten you were praying? At best, things like this carry a high-probability of distraction, at worst they’re just plain unproductive, and disrespectful to the God of the universe. So lately, I’ve been disciplining myself to kill the biggest hindrance to active listening: multitasking. In The Imperfect Disciple, Jared C. Wilson writes
So if Jesus’s intentional prayer involved withdrawal to deserted places, and he did so often, how awesome do we think we are that we don’t have to follow suit?
When it comes to listening, I want to be the kind of person who treats listening as an act of love. And while I can’t yet see the shore, it’s certainly a sea worth sailing.