Half-eared listening is the kind that “presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening…and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” This kind of poor listening diminishes the other person because we are preoccupied with ourselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer discusses the need for the service of listening, saying that listening can be a greater service than speaking, in his classic Life Together.
Yet, we often fight against listening. We would rather trust ourselves than someone else, and in our arrogance, we think we are right, and speak our own thoughts rather than listen to someone else. And even worse, our half-eared listening in our ordinary and community relationships reflects the poor way we tend to listen to God, giving at best half our attention to the Divine presence in our hurried, distracted, over-stimulated, sleepy way of living.
So what does full-eared listening look like? It is externally relaxed and internally active! Externally relaxed means you have to be at peace and focused, shutting out the multitude of voices including your own, fighting for a word. Internally active means you engage the Spirit within you through listening prayer, hearing God as you listen to the other. As Bonhoeffer says: “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”
REFLECT. Here are a few evaluation questions to think about your listening skills:
- Do you intentionally listen, or just start talking about yourself?
- Do you listen with compassion, or just want to fix the problem?
- Do you listen with humility, or just arrogantly want to be right?
- Do you listen for discernment and direction, or just push for a decision?
- Are you willing to pray and hear a word from the Spirit, or just give your own advice?
Don’t despair, most of us need some help and practice to be better listeners. As James 1:19 includes encouragement for ALL of us: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.”
PRACTICE. Full-eared Listening or Prayerful Listening is a practice that “soul” friends can offer as spiritual companions. Reflect on these guidelines and try them out in your next conversation:
Pray for the heart of a listener. King Solomon asked God for what is usually translated as an “understanding heart” or “discerning mind” but in Hebrew it is literally a “listening heart.” Read 1 Kings 3:3-12 and respond to what God said to Solomon: “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”
Be Fully Present. Simply begin by being yourself and giving your full attention to another. Welcome them with kindness, attentive listening, and mutuality. Don’t feel the need to say something profound, but be intentional in listening. This brings about confidence for the other to reveal who they are in relationship to God and others.
Think of ways that would help you to be fully present as an active listener such as giving ample space and time for the conversation, as well as putting away screens or other distractions.
Be a Prayerful Listener. Listening in a prayerful way involves attending to the other’s story and also to God’s presence and interaction. This kind of listening touches the other with depth, not intrusiveness. You move away from being a helper solving problems, to a listener who slows down, pays attention to the inner issues, and engages in reflective interaction. With this practice, we listen not only to another person but to Spirit of God present in the conversation.
When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen, declares the Lord.Jeremiah 29:12 MSG
RESOURCES. Sacred Companions, David G. Benner. The Listening Life, Adam S. McHugh, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
4 Comments Add yours
I’m going to work on being better than a half=eared listener! Thank you for this❤️
Thank you Robbi. I hear and plan to practice active listening. This was an excellent blog! Thanks for sharing!
I need to work on this. Praying for the heart of a listener 💗love you my friend!
I Love your blog and thanks so much for your encouragement and support. Spiritual formation is a game changer.