Listen to Their Heart

I hadn’t done my own laundry in over a year when we came home from the field. A whole year of handing my dirty clothes over to a local woman to scrub, rinse and hang on the line.

To some that sounds like the stuff dreams are made of. It was minus the horrible soap that was used and the way our clothes wore threadbare in a year.

I came home pregnant and desperately seeking some sense of normalcy. I wanted to do my own laundry. I wanted to turn on a spigot and wash my coffee cup in warm suds. It seemed that no one quite understood my perspective.

My grandmother wanted to take care of me. She thought I was far too skinny to be pregnant and I know a low level of worry was coursing through her as she looked at my small frame. Truth be told I felt fine. I had tons on my mind and a husband still two continents away, but otherwise I was happy to be back on familiar soil after a tumultuous time overseas (think refugees, living in the bush, malaria, and general stress)

At one point my grandmother and I got into an exhausting argument because she kept trying to do everything for me. It wasn’t what I needed. If she had listened instead of jumping into doing she would have found out that I needed to do my own laundry and furthermore she would have heard my heart. Instead she got her feelings hurt. I felt like I was banging my head on a brick wall. I learned one hugely obvious lesson at that junction of my life.

The best way to help is to listen.

Fast forward three years and I hear myself telling my eager little girl that very thing on average 40 billion times a day. She wants to help with everything and I want her to jump in and help me. I wasn’t always that welcomed into the mundane tasks of life growing up so it is important she learns and feels included.

But sometimes? Oh golly goodness it is hard to include her. She dunks her hand in the cake batter. She puts the dirty clothes in the dryer. She re-washes the dishes getting water everywhere. She “cleans” the potty by unrolling all the toilet paper.

Cue the loop of me saying “The most important part of helping is listening.”

Life on the field can be a difficult balance. We want to be effective in the life we’re leading overseas. We want results. We want to see our efforts amount. Sometimes we can be pretty bull headed about what that looks like.

While overseas our team used the CHE (Community Health Evangelism) model to work in our community. It’s just one of many ways you can reach out to people to help holistically, something that was really important to our work.

The main thing I learned from our time and efforts was what I perceived as helping and what those I was trying to love and help experienced were often two completely different things. It taught me to slow down when I encounter an issue and truly listen.

I’m struck as I tell this story because my One Word for this year is “Listen”. It came to me while I was lecturing my daughter about the whole helping by listening thing. I realized that I’m still pretty terrible at listening which means I must not be all that great at helping.

In some ways listening and seeing in these cases are very tied. When we refuse to listen to a person then it is as if we are looking straight through them. We choose what we think is helpful, which is usually somehow tied to pride over what we think we can accomplish, rather than choosing the person.

We’re all scattered all over the world doing a million different things, but I would guess that in most of our cases it is easier to think we are helping by counting the number of things we’ve done rather than engaging another person without care to how much we can accomplish.

It can be hard. There are expectations placed on us to utilize funds and accomplish goals. Sometimes we can get tunnel vision. Jesus never had tunnel vision. He always had panoramic vision. It allowed Him to see and hear a heart.

I love to imagine the story of Zaccheus. That wee little man. Jesus saw him and called him out of the tree and went to his house. He side-tracked his day to hear a hated man’s story even though he knew it already.

Ouch. That’s convicting for me in my daily life Stateside. Productivity doesn’t equal true soul filling.

When we listen we are pulled into someone’s life and given fuller opportunity to minister. The simple act of listening can be more effective than any program development or initiative to change lives. The very act of listening can change a life.

Do you struggle with listening? Are you more eager to “help” in a traditional sense than to slow and engage a heart?

Photo Credit: PVCG via Compfight cc

15 Comments

  1. Casey January 29, 2015

    Love this, Jessica! We have the “listen before helping” policy with our family, but I love the way you tied it into ministry. I am often amazed at how much parenting is like ministry overseas. We can learn so much from one about the other. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jessica Hoover January 29, 2015

      Yes, it is SO much like parenting. Lots of connections there. Also, love knowing someone else has a “listen before helping” policy in their family.

  2. Kristi January 29, 2015

    Great piece.  I am fortunate enough to have a few friends who are great listeners.  The way they listen tells me that I am important and that what I think and feel is important. I want to be that same kind of Jesus listener, but I have far to go.

    1. Jessica Hoover January 29, 2015

      Oh Kristi, me too. I catch myself talking a blue streak with certain friends who are great listeners and then I leave thinking “I didn’t even take the time to listen to her.” It’s something I am growing more and more conscientious and desirous to change. Good to know I’m not the only one wanting to grow in this area!

  3. Beth Everett January 29, 2015

    “The most important part of helping is listening.”
    Sounds simple enough, but actually takes such care and skill. Thanks for this great reminder, Jennifer. It helped me today to take pause and truly listen to the heart of someone I care for and want to help in their time of need.  I like what you said about how we often “choose what we think is helpful” rather than “choosing the person”. Listening is such an important part of showing compassion!

    1. Beth Everett January 29, 2015

      Jessica! (not Jennifer!) Sorry for that! 🙁  It’s been one of those days!

      1. Jessica Hoover January 29, 2015

        No worries about calling me “Jennifer”. I’ll respond to just about anything!

    2. Jessica Hoover January 29, 2015

      It is such an important part, but it’s a hard part. It’s hard to slow and listen when we think we could be efficient in helping. I really struggle with that daily. Sometimes listening can lead us to conclusions and places we would have otherwise skimmed over. Deeper, richer places perhaps.

  4. Catherine January 29, 2015

    Such a well timed reminder. A 17 year old friend came to visit a couple of days ago and told me she was pregnant and was on her way to buy “medicine” to get rid of the baby. I have been wondering and praying about how to love her and help her. I wanted to offer to do lots of practical things but the reality of what I can do for her is pathetically limited. But this, perhaps this I can do…

    1. Jessica Hoover January 29, 2015

      Catherine, that is so tough. Especially when you can see the dozens of ways you could jump in and help. Prayers for wisdom and patience to listen.

  5. ALiyah January 29, 2015

    Hi! I really liked your post and your honesty :))

    Just today I was led back to Gary Chapmans Love Languages book, and of course we know that gifts of service (helps) is some peoples love language. For others it is something else. For me its listening and quality time. I am realising again today how important this is, not only in a marriage but in friendships and in the body of Christ in general. I pray we will be able to love each other as we should and bless each other. We all are worth that much (1 John 4). Many blessings Aliyah

  6. Jessica Hoover January 29, 2015

    Yes, Aliyah, you are so right to say that “Gifts of Service” are often a very real way to listen to individual hearts. I think that takes an extra dose of listening to know that. We have to pay attention to people, don’t we? It’s easy to lump all “people” together and assume we need the same things. Grateful for your words here today!

  7. Monica January 29, 2015

    I really enjoyed this post Jessica.  I tend to be one of those people who ‘jumps in’ before listening carefully, which has definitely got me in trouble (that infamous scuba diving class?)!  My husband and I began incorporating CHE ‘foundations’ to our place of work and ministry several years ago- and as I would go through materials, or facilitate a workshop I was continually convicted of how I could be applying the principles in my own life and family!  Anyway, I have come away with similar thoughts- how we often ‘perceive’ peoples’ needs, but have we truly listened?  When do we intervene?  When is that teachable moment?  Or is it just sitting with someone and listening, and not saying anything at all?  I know for myself, sitting and listening can be much more of a challenge, so that’s an area I would like to work on, with the Lord’s help!

  8. laura r January 30, 2015

    “The most important part of helping is listening.”

    Those words stopped me.  A community marked by this kind of characteristic would be truly life changing.

    Such rich words. – simple yet so profound.  Thank you for sharing.

  9. Shelly January 31, 2015

    Jessica,

    You are definitely not alone in growing in this area. Though I see growth in me, I also see what you described above – coming away from time with a friend during which I talked her ears off! Maybe this listening thing is like mentoring: we have mentors and we are mentoring others. So, we are listeners and others are listeners for us. But this doesn’t let me off the hook. Just this week I can think of conversations in which I resorted to my default mode: the other tells her story, I parallel it. Maybe I think it’s a way to say, “I get it.” It’s less risky than listening, hearing whatever emotions lie under the words, and engaging her there. Parallel story is like jumping in to do something – it’s activity, it mimics engagement, but it really isn’t.  Listening (as we are discussing here) and doing nothing can be hard, but when it has been done (either by me, or for me), it has been so good because we have been seen as we really are and accepted. And that, seeing and accepting, might be just the right kind of help at the moment.

    As you wrote in your post:

    When we refuse to listen to a person then it is as if we are looking straight through them. We choose what we think is helpful, which is usually somehow tied to pride over what we think we can accomplish, rather than choosing the person.

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