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The Ministry of Listening

Even I started to believe that ministry ALWAYS involved talking.  Either you have to speak to an audience, pray for a person, encourage the downtrodden, or correct and chasten the wayward.  If it had to do with ministry, obviously somebody needed to be saying something.  And then, I had a revelation (don’t you love when that happens?).

I was drafting my devotional, Light UP, last year, and in doing so wrote down, just out of the blue, “sometimes you need to just listen.”   I realized later that listening is not for everyone.  Some people are not good listeners, because they are too busy concentrating on what they have to say.  They feel that they MUST say something because of what I said in the paragraph above:  Ministry ALWAYS involves talking.

But I would argue there is a different ministry we don’t share much, and that is the ministry of listening.  My husband, who talks in spurts, has the ministry of listening to others, ad nauseum.  Just last night I watched him during a hospital visit listen to a family member ramble on and on.  The conversation started with how hurt he was that his close relative was transitioning, but somehow the story meandered over into church hoppers and child support.

Whahahahahat just happened?  My husband, dutifully, furrowed his eyebrows, smiled, and nodded in all of the right places.  He gestured kindly.  He offered sounds of agreement and interest from somewhere in his throat.  He looked intently into that brother’s eyes, and even though we were standing right outside the patient’s door, he listened.  For the next 20 minutes.  As we left the hospital, the young man walked us out and said, “Man, thanks so much for coming, and just thanks for listening.  Sometimes you just need somebody to listen.”

Let me tell you right now, listening is not necessarily my ministry.  I’m learning from my dear husband, but it’s hard.  I find myself making a grocery list, or trying to remember the last episode of Broadchurch I saw.  I’m thinking about when Layla’s next snack day is, or when Quincy has to stay over late for violin practice.  I don’t listen.

To another point, even when I’m talking with Isaac, I only hear so much.  I’ve gotten better with the help of the good Lord, but I often pick up snatches of his dissertations, and filibuster my way into a response.  I’m very bad at it.

I find it funny though that when I talk, I want to be heard through and through.  Everyone does.  They want to be heard, and those who have the ability to listen intently and respond appropriately do a big job in ministry.  They offer the talker the opportunity to cleanse herself of the noise that’s clouded her mind and kept her from thinking clearing.  They offer the speaker a moment of catharsis where their emotional palate can be cleansed.  They offer the speaker a voice, a chance to declutter the thoughts that plague their otherwise balanced logic.

If your ministry is that of listening, thank you for being a sounding board.  If you’ve not even thought of the importance of hearing someone out, think now and hold your peace when someone wants someone to just listen.

Mincing my words,


Published inHer Light


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