You hear, but how well do you listen?
Recently I spent a week at a workshop on conflict resolution. It was a very fruitful experience. One of the most important lessons that I took away from the sessions was the importance of listening. I mean really listening.
In one mediation exercise we asked someone to tell their experience of what happened that caused the rift or need for mediation. And the person with whom they were attempting to reconcile would just listen and not respond. And the listener would have to repeat back what they heard the other person saying. The point is that we need to really listen and we need to really feel heard.
Too often we hear about two words and then we start formulating our response, and so we really do not hear what is said because we are so caught up in what we want to say.
Sometimes when I write an article I get such an immediate and lengthy response that it feels a lot like that kind of half-listening that we often do when we get defensive. I wrote an article recently on the making a place for the immigrants. I talked about what might have to change in our world to make a place at the table for everyone.
I got back such rapid and such lengthy responses that I think the listening was very short and the thinking about a response was too quick. But I do it, too, when certain subjects push my buttons. We all do. I started wondering if we do it with God. Then I realized that we do worse with God. We start our prayers with too many words and sometimes we never listen at all.
The part of prayer that gets neglected is the silence. It is actually in the silence between the words that God often speaks. Remember when Elijah was fleeing and hiding out in a cave? He was told that the Lord was passing by. And God was not in the windstorm and God was not in the earthquake. God was in the sheer silence.
I have been impressed by our leaders in Congress who have, it seems, actually been listening to each other (and possibly to God?) when it comes to immigration. One side hears from the other that there is a need to protect our borders. The other side hears the need to deal with millions of people who are here illegally and yet have family and lives and interests, and in some cases are integral to the economy of an area. I didn't have the answer, I just raised the question, as have so many others.
I believe that as stewards of God's creation, and more as stewards of the Gospel, we need to be stewards of each others stories. We need to listen. We need to value what each other has to offer, not only in our plenty and our rejoicing, but also in our need and lament. Then only then can we be fully the body of Christ.
One practice that I got too busy to do lately is my daily meditation. And I should know better. I am too busy not to take time to listen. Luther said that when he got busy he added any extra hour of prayer a day. All I am contemplating is an extra 20 minutes of silence. It gives me good practice also for listening to others.
It just occurred to me that perhaps God may force me to listen. I have to have some throat surgery soon and may not have any choice but to listen. I guess we shouldn't wait for so forceful and invitation.
What is it that you should be listening to or listening for?
Lord, Slow us down and help us to listen and then fill us with your Word and your love. Amen
Copyright © 2007, The Rev. Dana Reardon. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Email her at
The Rev. Dana Reardon is pastor at St.
Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Warwick, RI. A lifelong Lutheran, she
came to ordained ministry after 21 years in nursing, mostly in pediatric
intensive care. She graduated from Lutheran Theological Seminary at
Philadelphia in 1998 and served 4 ½ years in Upstate New York before
becoming a New Englander. She is still trying to understand the
accent. While in the Upstate New York Synod she chaired the Stewardship
Team. That began her fascination with what makes stewards -- and more,
what makes for generosity. She has three amazing daughters: Pastor Reardon says much of what she knows of
life she learned from them.