Listening Factor

My dad had two girls. No sons. So, from his daughters—my big sister and me—Daddy expected a show of “male-like” strength and toughness that I didn’t always show . . . or understand. Still, I did my best to meet his expectations—working hard, taking stands, fighting to blaze my path in the world, listening not to others but to my own heart. Just like Daddy.

Listening to other people? That wasn’t his style. For all his great ways, Daddy may never once have asked me during my growing up years, “What do you think?”

So, I didn’t learn that gift. Listening to others? What could they possibly know? About me. About life. About how to cook a chicken. Paint a wall. Pull a weed. About the best streets to drive on the road of life.

Then I got married. Fireworks marked my early years with Dan. Every day, it seemed, we argued. His big complaint?

“You never listen.”

Our kids said the same thing. “Why don’t you just ask? Just once,” one daughter begged me. “Why don’t you listen?”

What a surprise, then, when I wrote my first devotional book—on the virtues that God blesses—the Lord was gracious to show me that the No. 1 virtue that blesses relationships most is “Listening.”

“My child, listen . . . ” Solomon says early in his book of wisdom (Proverbs 1:8 NLT).

It’s not a suggestion. It’s a plea. Spoken tenderly. Even kindly. “My child, listen . . . ” As the writer, King Solomon seems to know many of us don’t listen well. So much noise is clanging in our own heads, we can barely hear ourselves think, let alone anybody else.

But listening is serious business. Listening to God’s Word, implanted by God’s Spirit in our hearts, “has the power to save your souls,” says James 1:19–21. Why? “My sheep listen to my voice,” Jesus answers. “I know them, and they follow me.”

When we listen, “I give them eternal life,” Jesus promises, “and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me” (John 10:27–28).

When we listen to God, He knows us. As we silence ourselves, our prayers don’t perish. God may hear us better; plus, He grants us eternal life. Not to mention better marriages, relationships, and friendships, no matter our age.

When the famed Helen Keller as a toddler became deaf and blind following severe illness, her first little friend, Martha, was the family cook’s daughter—a young child herself.

“We spent a great deal of time in the kitchen, kneading dough balls, helping make ice cream, grinding coffee, quarreling over the cake bowl, and feeling the hens and turkeys that swarmed about the kitchen steps,” Keller wrote.

To tell little Martha when she wanted to go outside to go egg hunting, “I would double my hands and put them on the ground, which meant something round in the grass, and Martha always understood.”

At least one psychiatrist has said this early friendship—through which Helen Keller perfected some sixty communication signs—was crucial for Keller’s later improvements with her beloved teacher, Anne Sullivan.

But what else does this story tell us? That listening takes two—that, indeed, the arithmetic of the gospel is two by two. “Two are better than one” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NIV). Or as Jesus put it: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). As important, however, we learn that when we work hard to listen well, we just don’t gain friends. We gain life.

Keller, in describing her “long night”—that “silent, aimless, dayless life” of her early years—said learning to listen and communicate was like being “restored to my human heritage.”

Likewise, listening to God births life. “Give ear . . . hear me, that your soul may live” (Isaiah 55:3).

Now, before I dive headlong into a project, plan a meal, paint a room, pull a weed, or embark on a mission, I ask Dan what he thinks. With my daughters and friends, too, I take time to ask their thoughts. Then I sit down and close my mouth to hear. On more times than I can count, they respond with priceless, remarkable, loving wisdom and truth. About what?

About how to serve better. Be better. Or how to hear what others know and think, even if I expect we’ll disagree.

The process reminds me of what we’re invited to do with our most important Friend. Draw near, Christ says. Then be still to hear. Quiet my heart, I pray. And my mouth. Then look what I discover. God is speaking.

—Written by Patricia Raybon. Used by permission from the author.