Learning to Listen

I remember the day when I began to listen. Truly listen.

I’d closed my eyes to pray and again – this had been happening for weeks – all I could see was a circle of charred tree stumps and blackened undergrowth in the middle of a forest. It was a National Geographic photo of forest fire devastation. The image didn’t surprise me though.

It was October 2015 and my husband’s recovery from a triple bypass had hit the eight-week mark. Eight weeks in and I hadn’t yet dealt with the reality of his near-death nor the other losses that had hit me hard in the previous year and a half: an immediate family member’s alcohol and drug addiction; the removal of her son from her care and into the foster care system; my father’s series of mini-strokes; my husband’s closure of his business and the loss of that income – hobby-level though it had been.That burned-out circle – that was my heart and spirit.

On this October day though, I had also heard an invitation. “Could you stay here awhile? With me?” That was Jesus and he had just asked me to sit, with him, for no other reason than to be in his presence and stare at what was left of my life as I’d known it. No agenda. Perhaps I simply didn’t have the energy anymore to figure it all out and fix it. Perhaps all I had really wanted to do was grieve and howl; look and listen and I had only needed divine permission to do so. Whatever the reason, I decided to say yes.

Almost every day since that October morning, I’ve kept silence with Jesus and just listened. Not at the same time every day and not always for the same length of time each day. The quality of each silence changes too – sometimes quiet and mellow, sometimes charged and electric. Sometimes it’s hard for me to listen to anything other than the ticker tape of to-dos that runs nonstop in my mind it seems. Even so, the habit of keeping silence with Jesus and learning to listen to what he has to say, has impacted me, and my leadership in ministry in ways I didn’t imagine.

First, I’ve learned to bring all of me into that silence; into that listening space. Bring your whole life to God the psalmist says and I do. And as all of me sits, kneels or lies in silence, in his presence, I’ve learned that God wants to love the least-sanitized parts of me – those unlovely edges of impatience and self-righteousness that my bosses, colleagues and those I serve won’t ever see. Learning and believing that fact has helped me learn to love the women with whom I work and the women I serve in ministry – not because they are unlovely (!) but because they are, in fact, deeply loved by Jesus – in the same way he loves me.

Second, I now rely less on my common sense and pragmatism when faced with dead-ends on projects or stalemates in conversations. I pray for discernment and revelation first: How will God express his love to me and to others through this situation? And what does he want me to say or do to express that love?

One day, as I sat in silence with my eyes closed, I could see miniscule shoots of green – new life – poking up around the burnt-out tree stumps. Listening and silence had sharpened my senses to the movement of God in the day-to-day ordinariness of life and leadership and I knew that those hints of green signalled his work…in my life and in the lives of the women with whom I work and serve.

I would have missed the tender hope of those green shoots had I not been sitting in patient silence. Patience and hope now mark my approach to the ongoing to-do lists; the e-mails and conversations I must write or have weekly; the sermon and workshop preparations I make. God’s in no rush (believe it or not) and hope is best savoured in the company of the One who is Hope personified.

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