The Listeners






Who are they?


They are the ones who hear our stories, often in bits and pieces like a patchwork quilt. Many times they are not the ones we had planned to tell or even wanted to tell, but each one had the incredible talent for giving our hearts a safe place to settle in that moment. Once settled, our hearts and thoughts coalesced and sometimes without a question being asked, bits and pieces tucked inside formed into words and we spoke them out loud. In the absence of judgment we said what we might not have said otherwise.


The dailyness of our lives can get stacked up inside us like the conveyor belt at the grocery store that halts unexpectedly. The processing of all those things can halt, but though set aside they do not leave us. They wait to be discovered later. Even then they are not always expressed as we sort through them.


We grow up hoping our parents will be listeners. Some of us are blessed to have them be so, but many more of us are not. We hope our best friend will be a listener. We thought they were at the very beginning, but that doesn’t prove true later at times. We hoped our ministry leader or Bible study leader would be a listener, but often disappointment can happen with them as well.


We pass by friends at church or when we are out shopping and they ask us how we are, but they barely listen and our soul remains famished for the one whose eyes will hold our own eyes steadily and truly see us before we risk speaking.




Their identity often surprises us. They may be our barber or hairdresser. We sit in their chair and they touch our head covered with thousands of nerve endings. They run their hands through our hair and we relax. They never fail to ask us how we are and their purpose is to make us look better than we think we look. In those moments, our mouths open and we share random bits of our stories both current and past, painful and frightening, joyful and exciting.


Jayber Crow was one of those listeners, a barber in rural Kentucky, who is the main character in a novel by Wendell Berry of the same name (Jayber Crow).


Jayber described the truth of this:


“But it’s a fact that knowledge comes to barbers, just as stray cats come to milking barns. If you are a barber and you stay in one place long enough, eventually you will know the outlines of a lot of stories, and you will see how the bits and pieces of knowledge fit in. Anything you know about, there is a fair chance you will sooner or later know more about. You will never get the outlines filled in completely, but as I say, knowledge will come. You don’t have to ask. In fact, I have been pretty scrupulous about not asking. If a matter is none of my business, I ask nothing and tell nothing. And yet I am amazed at what I have come to know and how much.”


Jayber had been in one place for many years of time. He had cut the hair of fathers, their sons, and grandsons. For the older ones he noted the conversation was like this: “They were remembering, carrying in their living thoughts all the history…”


Large shops and salons do not lend themselves to being someone’s “regular” oftentimes. But for those who do have that one person who knows how to get the cut and color just right and help us adapt to a new style, we count them as invaluable.


Listeners at times hear and see things they do not wish to. They see changes in health, signs of aging, and more. Most of the time they keep those observations to themselves and bless us in that.


One such experience for Jayber was especially poignantly depicted:


“…one day he comes into your shop and you have heard and you see that he is dying even as he is standing there looking at you, and you can see in his eyes that (whether or not he admits it) he knows it, and all of a sudden everything is changed. You seem no longer to be standing in the center of time. Now you are on time’s edge, looking off into eternity.”


Such listeners did not plan on being those special people who are keepers of the scrapbook of our stories, but it came to them and how blessed we are when we are in the company of a listener.


Few of us are truly listeners if we are honest.


I wonder if one of the things that most attracted so many to Jesus during His earthly ministry was that He was a listener.


Of course we know He spoke life-giving words with power and gentleness, but He listened as well. He not only listened to the words, but also to the hearts and anxious thoughts behind them. He was a safe place for a person to be who they were.


Thank you, Lord, for listeners, whoever they are and wherever they may be. This gift they give is precious indeed. Help each of us to grow in our desire to join them, to become listeners and not just talkers.


(This post is dedicated to all the listeners out there and especially one of my favorites…Molly!)


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20 thoughts on “The Listeners

  1. Such a touching post about a subject I seldom sit down to think about. And very timely too. Why today I was visiting with my aunt and uncle and because they are a certain age they were both talking to me… at the same time. I tried really hard to listen to them both, catching fragments of phrases and words here and there. But in the end it was impossible. This made me sad but I know I’ll go back and visit again and this time I plan on listening to them individually. Maybe I can put one of them in another room… for a little while so I can hear the other one.

    1. What a precious story and example of the challenge listening can be in so many contexts. I can almost imagine that these two might seldom have someone to visit and listen and in the moment you present yourself as a listener, each is so eager to share they both share at once. Bless you for persevering!

      1. I hadn’t seen them in a long while and they were eager to catch up with me.

  2. This was an interesting post. Your black/white photo (Sweet Inspiration link party) drew me in. What a great analogy using the barber or our hairstylist as a listener because this is so true. We tell, and they listen, or they tell, and we listen. Probably more so than I would tell another, because often people don’t really listen. They’re thinking about something else, or waiting for you to finish so they can talk. Just like you say…sometimes you tell your stylist things you really didn’t plan on sharing. I don’t know how many times I’ve done that. This is a good reminder to be listeners ourselves.

    1. Thanks so much, Florence, for catching the glimpse I wanted to share. Have a blessed week and I hope as you listen, you will hear with your heart the words of the one who risked sharing with you.😊

  3. Thank you, Pam! I’ve learned so much about this from you through our long friendship. I love your writing. I’m always blessed by it. 😘

  4. Dear Pam,
    After reading your words, I must agree with Michele and ask myself also, “Am I a bridge builder or a wall builder?” I pray that the Lord would open my heart more to be a listener with HIS Heart, that “not only listened to the words, but also to the hearts and anxious thoughts behind them.” Thank you for bringing out these sweet convicting thoughts! Blessings to you!

    1. Ah, Bettie, we all have much to learn about listening. Only He can show any one of us whether we have built a bridge or put up a wall. We may do both and sometimes He may have a purpose for either one. Have a blessed weekend!

  5. I loved this about Jayber, and I have noticed throughout the book all his comments about being a barber — he really sees it as a calling, doesn’t he! And I think that God has called us to be listeners, no matter what role we fulfill or what our hands are doing as our ears are open. And didn’t you love how Berry describes Mat Feltner’s steady gaze, looking into the eyes of a speaker with an invitation to also be searched.
    I’m loving this discussion!

    1. Yes, Jayber very much does, but I think it is a calling he discovers after leaving seminary and returning home. Yes, He has, but so few do that or do it well. I did very much love Mat Feltner’s steady gaze….what a gift to have him in The Membership…how many today would cherish that level of invitation!!🍁

      1. Perhaps you are both…or even a third option…a fence builder. We all need to be able to build bridges, but some will then crawl into our laps and try to live life always with us and so we need fences with gates, healthy boundaries, that also allows us some level of separateness. I think we are on safe ground there as I see Jesus very much doing both during His earthly ministry. If I become a wall builder, what is key is to look at why and what it says about my trust in Him.💕

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