“Understand this, my dear brothers, and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness (justice) God desires.”
Listening is one of the easiest things you’ll ever do and one of the hardest. In a sense, listening is easy. It doesn’t demand the initiative and energy required to speak. Too often, we are slow to hear, quick to voice, and quick to anger. So, learning to listen well won’t happen overnight. It requires discipline, effort, and intentionality.
I went on a spiritual retreat at a monastery run by Trappist monks. They have not taken a vow of silence but don’t speak much. I can count on one hand the number of sentences spoken all week. Many of us don’t like or even know silence because sights surround us, and sound constantly grabs our senses. I realized with the monks that it isn’t about the silence, but it is all about the listening. Listening not only to the word of God but to the world around us, our bodies, and those we interact with. It also involves listening to everything, whether we want to hear it or not.
The love of neighbour and God that scripture speaks about includes listening not just as a cerebral action but one that turns listening into a living response. Hearing and doing – listening to everything and being in touch with the world around you. Listening whether we like it or not – whether we hear what we want to hear- something disagreeable or threatening. If we begin to pick and choose, we are turning a deaf ear to the many unexpected and perhaps unacceptable ways in which God is trying to reach us.
I have learnt that good listening is an act of love. Dietrick Bonhoeffer wrote, “Just as love to God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the neighbour is learning to listen to them.” He suggested poor listening rejects; good listening embraces – poor listening diminishes the other person, while good listening invites them to exist and to matter.
Proverbs 18:13 shares, “To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.” The best ministry we can offer those around us is to listen to someone’s pain all the way to the bottom.
Good listening is an excellent means of grace of genuine Christian fellowship. Not only is it a channel through which God continues to pour his grace into our lives, but it’s also his way of using us as his means of grace in the lives of others. It may be one of the hardest things we learn to do, but we will find it worth every effort.