“People love to talk but hate to listen. Listening is not merely not talking, though even that is beyond most of our powers; it means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us. You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.”
I love that quote. To be listened to like a splendid auditorium sends shivers down my spine. I think it makes all the difference when someone actually hears what you are saying or trying to say.
I remember standing up in front of my first audience, notes in my hand, adrenaline rushing through my body. I was about to talk to a group of students about Jesus and I was excited and nervous. As I began to open my mouth and let the words tumble out I noticed how all these eyes had pinned their gaze on me. Then their heads began nodding and soon smiles were drawn across their faces.
This shy girl has a voice.
To be heard and listened to, whether that’s standing up staring at a sea of faces or talking face to face with a friend, is altogether terrifying and empowering. But I think it’s part of being human – the way we communicate with each other. To be heard and to be known.
But if no one is willing to listen then we can’t help but feel voiceless, with the rug being pulled from under our feet. And that’s a horrible feeling.
Wanting to say something but can’t, being drowned out by a hundred louder, bigger voices. Not being heard because no one is willing to listen. No one is willing to give the space to listen or ask the questions to help you unfold your story.
This messy human needs to be heard.
Throughout the Gospels Jesus hears people. The outcasts, the marginalised and the voiceless. And he gives them a voice.
I was reminded of this in a strange way with the story of the woman with the Alabaster Jar in Luke 7v36-50.
It’s strange because this woman never actually speaks, but her actions were heard loud and clear. Jesus gave her the space to cry, to kiss his feet and to anoint him with oil. Jesus rebukes the men in the room for wanting to get rid of the woman and for not treating him and her with respect. At that moment I can imagine the room going silent as these pious men looked upon this woman pouring oil over Jesus. She is seen and she is heard.
In many ways Jesus gave her a voice, a place to be heard, to be known and those who would normally speak the loudest were silenced. Jesus listened to her tears, her kisses and her anointing and I think he treasured everything she was doing. He heard the heart behind her actions and it was beautiful.
Everyone has a story to tell. Not all stories are to be told on the stage or the pulpit. Some are told around the camp-fire or in the coffee shop. Some are actions that we need people to see and hear the heart behind it. We need people to understand what we are trying to say.
This is a powerful gift to give. The safe place to be heard. The auditorium that allows us to have a voice. The patience to listen and to ask questions.
Knowing this is part of our humanity, that which makes us human, we can then provide those safe places for others to flourish. We can look beyond ourselves and watch how people react to being heard. It is transforming and empowering.
*1st Photo from TOM81115 (Flickr: Creative Commons licence)
*2nd Photo from Ruben Alexander (Flickr: Creative Commons licence)