One of the things I longed for, as a child was to have someone listen to me. It wasn’t that I had so many great stories to tell. I think I wanted someone to know I was there, to learn to know who I really was, and to look more deeply into the things I never said and barely dared to dream.
Growing up on a small farm meant my parents were very busy much of the time in the hard work of making a farm work. My younger brother’s disabilities also required a great deal of time and effort. Time alone with either parent was rare and usually involved an activity of some sort where that activity was the focus. They didn’t have the luxury of sitting on the porch swing entering my private world.
There were a number of consequences to that.
One was to question whether I was valuable and worth listening to. Another was to be unsure of who I was and what to do with the unspoken dreams and the questions that left me wondering. One additional one was to seek to listen to and get to know others. I asked questions about them and used them to often help me search out my own wonderings.
This last one gave me a great interest in people of all ages, experiences, and types. It was a gift that became a consistent thread, a dominant color, in the fabric of my days throughout my life even to the present.
It followed me into my short time as a “stringer” for a local newspaper and then into the classroom as a teacher of children with disabilities. It nudged me into graduate school to become a clinical counselor and later a staff pastor of a local church.
What I took a bit more time to discover was there was One who very much wanted to listen to me, even though He already knew what was in my heart.
He would never tire of my questions and He didn’t dissuade me of my dreams. He also wanted me to know Him relationally, conversationally, and to come to know His voice so well that I could rest in His love for me.
I think I began to discover these truths when here and there I stumbled upon someone who seemed to want to know the me beyond what I did. How did I know? They not only listened to my stories, but they also asked me questions and when they responded to my answers I knew they had listened. That didn’t immediately lead to the One who most wanted to listen, however, but it was a start.
That happened along the way as others I met who knew the Lord so well shared about their times with Him, their conversations with Him. Truly, they were rare. Many who knew Him could tell me about scripture or praying, but these others gave me a glimpse into something more, something different. My heart longed to know Him in that way.
Then one afternoon while I was attending an international women’s conference workshop in Chicago, the speaker asked us to take a few minutes in quiet ourselves before the Lord to ask Him what He thought of us. I cannot now recall the theme of the workshop that brought the speaker to that question.
What I know is that I felt anxious about asking the question. What if He didn’t like me? What if He didn’t speak to me? The presenter reassured us of how much He wanted to talk WITH each of us.
Somehow her confidence helped me risk asking and in time, I sensed Him speaking the most loving words I had ever heard.
Over time my conversational relationship with Him has grown, but I still have much to learn about listening. I was reminded of that again after starting to read a new book recommended by a friend recently. What was the book title? The Listening Life by Adam McHugh.
In McHugh’s insightful book, I have found a new mentor to take me further. He reminded me that I listened even before I was born or was aware that I was listening as an unborn child tuning into my mother’s voice. He also reminded me that when God spoke the universe into existence out of chaos that it listened!
As the pages of the book unfolded and my eyes consumed the nourishing words, I was also reminded that listening is foundational to being human even though other parts of creation respond to His direction.
Many of us can think we are pretty decent listeners (especially those of us who have done it professionally), but McHugh challenges his readers to reconsider that notion. Page after page contain many highlighted sentences to broaden my understanding, to challenge me to go deeper into listening.
Listening is a discipline. It is one we often forget in our desire to speak, in our busyness, in the midst of distraction, in our self-absorption. It is also the essence of discipleship.
I am so grateful to know the One who was always waiting to listen to me, to see it demonstrated over and over again when Jesus walked the earth, and now and then to discover it in another person who has spent considerable time with Him and is able to set aside their agenda, their knowledge, and seek out my heart and cherish it.
“When we encounter a God who listens, who welcomes us into his space, it changes both how we view God and how we view ourselves.” Adam MuHugh