"Perhaps the best conversationalist in the world is the man who helps others talk."
-Lee, from Steinbeck's East of Eden
There may be no discipline in our culture so highly valued but so seldom practiced as listening. Every relationship self-help book kicks off with the panacea of better listening. Every marriage can be fixed, every work conflict resolved, every wayward child brought home with more and better listening. Preach a sermon on listening and every head will nod and every knee will bow.
But in truth, there is no glory in listening. There is more glory in talking about listening than there is in practicing it. It is the New Years Resolutions of relationship disciplines. Listening is not glamorous, dynamic, or sexy. Listening will never be the next big thing. There is no money on the listening circuit. There is no listening circuit. People who have been well heard aren't even aware of it half the time.
The ministry of listening is quiet. Preaching happens center stage from a pulpit in front of hundreds of people. Listening happens in corners and coffee shops and late-night phone calls and hospital rooms. People don't line up at the door of the sanctuary to shake your hand after you have listened. The ministry of listening is small. It happens in one-on-one settings, maybe in an occasional small group that has prioritized listening to one another. The ministry of listening is slow. There is always more to learn about another person, no matter how long you have known them. There are more layers to unpack, more stories to hear, more emotions to usher us into trembling silence. It requires significant time and meaningful waiting.
I am not naive enough to think that my listening book will sell many copies. It will not bring me money and it will not bring me fame, and that is okay. Because a listener does not seek the spotlight.
The reason I am so dogged in my pursuit of a listening life is because listening is making me into the kind of person that I want to be. I want to be the kind of person who helps others find their voice by listening along with them. I want to be a story-listener more than a story-teller. I want a listening heart, one that seeks to give, to learn, to welcome, to serve. I want to believe that the way to be filled is by giving away. I want to release my power so that others would be exalted. I want to set aside my agenda and my desire to control and to let the heart and words of another, maybe even Another, direct the conversation. I want to be the kind of person who submits, the sort of man who is subject to others out of reverence for Christ. I want to be the kind of person who has the capacity to be present and attentive, and I want others to feel loved, respected, and valued by my attentiveness. I want my listening to remind people who they truly are.
I don't just want to listen. I want to be a listener.