“She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and said, “The Lord heard that I am neglected and has given me this son also.” So she named him Simeon.” -- Genesis 29:33 (CSB)
The story of Leah is one of my wife’s favorite Bible stories. It is both heartbreaking and hope-inspiring. We live in a cruel world, but we have a God who is compassionate. Leah was unloved by her husband in favor of her sister. It was such a struggle for Leah that she ended up giving three of her son’s names that express the fact that Jacob didn’t love her. Finally, Leah’s hope ultimately was in God. She named her last child, Judah, meaning “Now I will praise the Lord.” (Gen. 29:25) It was powerful for Leah to realize that even though her husband didn’t love her, she had a God who knew and loved her.
What is it about the human experience that seems to be fulfilled when we are listened to? After years of being misunderstood, and living in isolation it is redemptive to have someone sit in a chair next to you and actually hear you. It is a gift to have someone listen to you, understand who you are, and genuinely care about you. Why is this so powerful? It is powerful because we were created to hear and be heard, to love and be loved. In the same way that God heard Leah as she spoke to him through her anguish, we are supposed to hear others around us. This is why we were given ears; to imitate God in his attentive and compassionate listening to those around us.
To be honest, this does not always happen in the Hussung house. Sarah or one of our children will be talking and I start to think about something else. My mind drifts, my eyes glass over, and I have no idea what she was talking about. She affectionately says that I have gone to “Joe land.” Unfortunately, in our relationship with God and others, we can all go into “[enter your name here] land.” This is not what we were made for.
Let me offer four practical steps to consider if you want to practice attentive listening.
- Physical - I played a lot of sports growing up. Each sport, from basketball to golf, included concepts of posture to improve our skills. Likewise, our physical body can be either helpful or unhelpful in our pursuit of listening. When we desire to listen well we need to think about maintaining open posture and eye contact and meeting them at their level. For example, sitting or standing. If it is a child, bend down to meet them.
- Questions - One of the most important parts of listening isn’t remaining quiet the whole time. As you grow in your relationship you should attempt to become conversant with their heart. That means seeking to understand them and their world.
- Restate - When you think you understand what is going on, or what they have said, it is always helpful to restate what they said in your own words and try and express something about the way they feel about it. Express to them that if you are wrong on any level that they should feel free to correct you. Then see if what you said was right. If not, then adjust it to what they tell you. Now you understand them better!
- Express - Make sure you are always expressing love and acceptance to the other person.
Listening is not an exercise of compiling data as much as it is connecting with the person’s heart. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:2 that he wanted the Colossians and Laodiceans to have their “hearts knitted together in love.” This is what we are doing; lovingly connecting as we imitate our God who listens to us.
Perhaps you would like to learn more, such as, “What types of questions should I ask?” or “What types of things should I be listening for in their stories?” Those are all good questions and I want to invite you to check back here next month. I will be writing a follow-up post that will attempt to briefly tackle those questions, offer some resources that will help you in a longer format, and provide visuals to assist you in organizing your thinking around listening well to the hearts of others.
Joseph has years of ministry experience providing soul care to a variety of age groups as an Education Pastor, Youth Pastor, and Associate Pastor.