Listening Can Change a Life

September 6, 2014

by Maria Fontaine

While there is a lot about the importance of listening available on the Internet and on bookshelves, I wanted to hear what Jesus would say about this topic, especially as it relates to us, His followers. We are His representatives and our job is to mirror His nature in a world where living examples of God’s love, care, and Spirit are greatly needed. Here’s what He had to say:

Jesus: One of the greatest lacks for many people in this world today is the lack of connection with others. Families are scattered, friendships are torn apart by the stress and the struggles of daily life. Marriages often become partnerships of convenience instead of the foundation for raising stable, faith-filled families.

In the “me first” culture that pervades much of the world and with the increased levels of crime, even in small towns and villages, it can be hard to know who you can turn to in times of need. The moral decline in society at large can leave people feeling alone, fearful, and lacking in the peace of mind and motivation that positive human interaction and mutual trust helps to foster.

You have something powerful in your hands if you will only use it. It is the tool of listening. Even if you feel right now that you don’t have a broken heart for those who need Me, if you will make a concerted effort to listen to others, you’ll begin to discover things you might not have noticed before: their desire to be of value to others, their need to be cared about and to be understood.

The need to be heard goes unfulfilled in many lives. As you realize how sad and lonely this makes people, you will feel constrained to be a listening ear. The compassion that you will feel will be a manifestation of My love for them. The fact that someone sees them as important enough to listen to them helps them to build confidence and a positive outlook. You can’t fix their every problem but you can convey My hope, My love, and My strength to them through the simple act of listening.

An article that I recently came across gave a good example of how important listening can be in someone’s life. The young woman who wrote the article explained how she had suffered from depression, loneliness, and not feeling understood. Much of it was due to the fact that she had no one to talk to about her difficulties. She felt a huge void in her life. She felt like a failure. She sensed that her family members and friends didn’t understand her and lacked the time or patience to listen to her. She felt suffocated, isolated, and invisible.

Then something wonderful happened to her. A stranger came into her life who was willing to just listen with interest and without judgment. This simple act of caring enough to listen to her had a powerful impact on her health, attitude, sense of self-worth, and her whole perspective on life. She said:

It was this powerful listening that provided immeasurable healing. It was the first time in my life I actually felt like I had been heard, really understood—like what I had to say made sense. I felt important and visible again. Like most depressed people, I lacked motivation and self-worth. Feeling understood is the most basic of human needs; during a time of depression it almost feels as critical as the need for air.

Being understood immediately shifted my perspective: from feeling invisible to feeling visible, from feeling down to feeling uplifted, from feeling contracted to feeling expanded, from feeling hopeless to hopeful. It made me rise again and take care of my basic needs. Slowly but surely, I was able to walk out of the depression with the help of powerful listening, which has changed my life forever.1

This woman did not receive solutions, advice, or answers. Instead, the one taking the time to listen asked thought-provoking questions like: “What does your soul really want?” “What makes you happy?” “What are you grateful for?” and “How can you forgive?” The results of listening in this case were very clear and profound.

Depression, even if it isn’t at its most severe levels in a person’s life, still hinders their ability to function and robs them of the joy of living. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics estimate that one adult in ten in the U.S. suffers from depression.2

Those who work with people who are suffering extreme depression or threatening suicide must do a great deal of compassionate listening. The same is true for those whose work involves handling various types of crisis management, hostage negotiations, or grief counseling. Many times the people in crisis that they are counseling have lived for years with pent-up emotions, until they can’t bear it anymore and react out of desperation, anger, or despair.

They often are overwhelmed with grief or pain, or a sense of personal worthlessness, and see no hope of being understood. When you listen to a person, it shows you care. Giving someone even a little undivided attention can change things radically for them, and in some cases, could even save their life.

However, it’s not just the depressed that need a listening ear. Everyone needs to be listened to.

When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand.3

When we listen to another, we begin to understand the depths of their need. Listening paves the way to present to them the friendship of the greatest listener of all. The fact that you listen to them can help them believe that God will listen to them. They know you care; therefore they begin to trust what you share with them. This can open opportunities to talk to them about Jesus.

Listening is a sign of respect. It makes people feel valued. It’s a sign of love. Listening to people makes it possible for them to change.

When I have been listened to and when I have been heard, I am able to re-perceive my world in a new way and to go on. It is astonishing how elements which seem insoluble become soluble when someone listens. How confusions which seem irremediable turn into relatively clear flowing streams when one is heard.4

One of our Family members, Keith, captured the point beautifully:

We have learned in our ministry with the homeless what a huge gift we give someone when we listen to them. The homeless have been through so much, and on top of everything else they suffer from being viewed with disdain or contempt, even though in many cases their misfortune could have happened to anyone. Many of them have suffered such a loss of self-respect that they have no motivation. Our sitting down and drawing them out and listening to them on a deep level helps validate them as people. It heals them and helps them and gives them hope. It helps them believe that they must be special to God, as we all are.

The homeless are not alone in their need to be heard. Every person the world over wants to be listened to!

Genuinely listening to someone is an opportunity to make an impact in the life of a person whom Jesus loves. It’s an opportunity to be a living example of the care and love of the one who is not only willing to lend an ear, but also has the power and wisdom to guide them through whatever challenges they face. Our Creator made us to desire to be understood and to understand others. We cannot understand another person without listening to them. If you show an interest in them, it helps them feel that someone cares, makes them feel they have something of value to offer, and that they’ll be able to find the solutions to the things that are holding them down.

Sincere and nonjudgmental listening can change people’s outlook on themselves, their situations, and their future. Expressing care through listening can create bonds of trust between the one listening and the one being listened to, whether they are co-workers, teenagers, other family members, or peers. It can help to relieve depression, fear, anger, defiance, or rebelliousness.

Listening breaks down barriers and draws people together. Listening has creative power. It pulls someone out of their shell, and as they talk they will see where they can move forward or effect change in their life. As you listen, they’re very apt to hear from their own heart things that God has put there, ideas and plans that they have not yet recognized. Haven’t you sometimes had the need to just talk about your challenges and problems to someone, and almost without them saying a word, things became clearer and a way was opened for you to see some solutions?

As you listen to another, you help them to listen to themselves. People need that. The world goes so fast today that many don’t take the time or know how to listen to their own thoughts. The results of listening—the renewed hope, the emotional healing, the motivation to get up and try again, and the realization by the one listened to that they are important to you and to God—are tremendous benefits that come from something that anyone can do. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes learning and practice, and yes, it’s not easy to listen much more than you speak and to just be there for people, to concentrate fully on them. But it’s more than worth the price.

Whose life can you help to change by showing a desire to hear their heart speak? You don’t have to be a great conversationalist or highly educated. You don’t need a special place set up for the task. All you need is you, and a heart full of the Lord’s love and care. Your center of operations is wherever you are. Your client is the person near you. The tools of your trade are your heart, your eyes, and your ears: your heart to feel; your eyes to notice their drooping shoulders, downcast look or worried expression; and your ears to listen. You can show that you care by taking the time to listen, to understand their heart, and then, when they’re ready, to show them how to draw closer to Jesus, who can help them through every trouble, every difficulty, and who can supply all their needs. Investing your time in another person’s life can help bring changes in their heart and spirit that will last for eternity. It all begins with the simple task of listening.

2 See article here.

3 Karl Menninger.

4 Carl Rogers.