Listening Well

We have been living at seminary now for over 7 months. When we arrived, we found ourselves often involved in and listening to conversations that centered around four letters. Are you an I or an E? Are you an F or a J? At first I was confused, as my brain sorted through the possibilities of what these letters could mean. Staring blankly, with baby in one arm, not sure what to say, and without any clue as to what they were talking about, I would answer honestly, “I actually don’t know what F and J mean.” We found these four letter combinations to be everywhere around campus and in class. After realizing this was a Meyers-Briggs personality tool and remembering that I had taken this test almost 20 years ago in college, we learned to appreciate these letters, because these letters actually had meaning and we would learn to appreciate even what these letters meant for us personally.

While living here in community, and from auditing one class (of which I only attended about half of the classes because our life was so busy last semester), and from learning through osmosis from what my husband is learning in his Mdiv classes, the Lord has been teaching me to listen well.

I always thought I was a good listener. When I am meeting with a friend, I put my cell phone away or on silent. If I’m talking with someone and my phone rings, I don’t answer it, but return the call when I have a moment. If I’m at church talking to someone and someone else taps my shoulder to say hi, I say a quick hello in a whisper, give a smile and a wave and then return to the person I was listening to. I want to give full attention.

I’ve realized, though, that there is so much more involved in listening well.

Listening doesn’t just involve eye contact and letting people finish their sentences. Listening isn’t just about hearing another’s words. If you want to listen well, it can take quite a lot of energy, which can be difficult for a generally introverted personality like mine.

As a Christian, it is important to listen well because we are ambassadors of Christ and we want to represent Him well to each other and to the world for the sake of His  Kingdom and for the sake of His redeeming work in our lives and relationships.

It is an honor to listen to someone’s story. Your neighbor, your relative, your spouse is made in the image of God. They have a story, a long and complicated, intricate story that began before they were even born. It is a privilege to be given the honor of hearing and engaging in one’s story.

Sometimes we need to just listen… physically hearing and internalizing what someone is saying, evaluating and analyzing, considering the vast array of possibilities and interpretations that could be present. It involves waiting patiently for wisdom and speaking timely words in response.

I like the NIV version of Ephesians 4:29 that says,

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
(Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

We want to build others up in the Truth, in Christ, according to their needs. The most important of those needs is having the Gospel impact their lives.

According to Carl Jung and Isabel Briggs Myers’, there are 16 different personality types. Already, we have a lot to wade through in learning to listen to someone! A free personality test here was one of the many tools used in our Spiritual and Ministry Formation Class. I didn’t realize back then how useful this would be in understanding myself better and understanding how I interact with others. Ultimately, this would aid in how well I am able to listen to others and interact with more wisdom and knowledge, simply because I would now be listening to them with skill.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19 ESV)

One of the main culprits for causing disunity and disgruntled relationships is due to the inability to recognize the inner workings of the vast array of different personalities. Each person may see an event or an opinion in a different light due to the way they interpret a situation, what worldview or culture they are coming from, whether they are an introvert or extrovert, what they value, and how they have learned to manage their emotions, responses, and ways of interacting with others.

It takes a lot of effort and grace to listen well to another. But learning this lifelong skill will help diffuse many a needless conflict, bring restoration to relationships and most importantly, open doors for the gospel to be shared, received and savored.

Listen, and listen well.