Listening and Loving

Posted on by Heidi Brunsting

Written by Claire Froehlich

The first service that one owes to others consists in listening to them. Just as love for God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them…we forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. But the person who can no longer listen to others will soon be no longer listening to God either…Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by the One who is the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.  ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Recently, one of the staff at the correctioal facility where I minister asked me, “What do you actually do with these kids anyway?” She was curious, having heard the kids laughing so much at one of our Bible studies. I suspect she was also curious as to exactly what a Chaplain does…something I hadn’t known much about myself until recently.

I told her, “I help the kids find their faith. If they ask me about my faith, I share what I believe. I help them pursue truth, even if it is hard. My overall hope in coming here is to help them know God sees them and He cares.”

I sat for a full hour entirely captivated by “Dana’s” story. It played out in front of me like the novel “The Outsiders” with Dana as the character Ponyboy. I was surprised at the depth, detail and intimacy with which she spoke. I teared up in many places. I felt like we were sharing a very sacred moment…a moment where sharing her story with me had somehow invited God into her story as well.

To care for young people means to listen. It means opening our ears to the words and feelings youth speak, even if that may run us into foul language. Some youth do not have the vocabulary to express themselves without it. Most of the time, it takes listening through their language to what they are really saying. A cuss word may really be an expression of frustration, not a direct insult. Many times, it is a way of articulating pain. Even with all the means we have of communicating today, it is rare to find someone who really listens. We rarely recall words from a sermon, lecture or speech but we remember the moments where we felt deeply listened to and heard by another person.

Listening to these kids stories connects me to them like nothing else. I see their story through their eyes, participating alongside them. They delight in explaining all the intricacies of their world, even the sad and painful parts. Perhaps in having someone listen to their story, to be with them in those memories, means they are no longer alone. Perhaps it helps them know God is there with them, that He sees them and He cares.

Youth Specialist Mark Yaconelli once led an exercise with a group of teenagers in which he asked them to remember a time when they felt deeply heard. He wrote down their words:

Relief              Affirmed                Humbled       Held
Cared for        Loved                    Relevant       Humbled
Freed up         Overwhelmed       Eternal          Important
Like God was present      

In seeking to share the presence of Jesus with young people, I try to let go of lessons, advice, and admonishments and simply be with them and listen. Listen to them in the same way we all long to be listened to. Listening to them with the patient and loving ears of Jesus.

Share |