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Desperately Needing to Be Heard

Recently I attended a healing prayer conference in Dallas that featured one of the founders of Christian Healing Ministries, Judith MacNutt. Her late husband, Francis MacNutt, was well-known in charismatic circles as a teacher and prolific writer. Judith was quite matter of fact when discussing healing, and she taught us to listen, love, and pray. The vital importance of listening keeps resonating for me.

A few weeks ago my husband, Tom, and I were in South Africa helping to train indigenous youth leaders from Eswatini, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. Part of our assignment was to teach listening to others. I always begin by asking, “How many of you have enough people in your life to listen to you?” I was shocked and saddened when none of the 60 people present answered in the affirmative.

We first began thinking about listening as a spiritual discipline over 25 years ago, when the Rev. Anne Long spoke at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham. Anne Long was the first woman ordained deacon in the Church of England and began a listening ministry in Whitehall that is still active today. In her book Listening, she recounts having a vision of Jesus with withered ears while she prayed about beginning a healing ministry.

In our ministry at The Abbey on Lovers Lane, including my work as a spiritual director, I find over and over the healing power of listening. Several months ago, a directee told me about his child who was in constant pain and had endured a great number of surgeries. Until then, I didn’t realize the extent of his son’s impairment, and I was stunned. I was only able to say, “Wow! That’s a lot,” to which my directee responded, “Thank you! No one will let me say that.” This is a powerful reminder of how deeply our hearts yearn to be heard and the scriptural truth that “when I am weak, he is strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

I also see more and more the importance of listening in my family. My mother recently died and my 97-year-old father desperately misses her. When he calls to tell me that he’s lonely and he’s sad, all I can do is tell him, “I know you miss Mom. So do I. I am sorry that’s so hard.” A few years ago a dear friend told me, “All unsolicited advice is taken as criticism.” I have tried to make that my mantra with my adult sons. Most of the time they simply want someone who cares to hear them. I call this incarnational listening — my presence and attention shows them there is a relational God who knows them and never tires of hearing them.

Of course everyone suffers. In South Africa the youth leaders we worked with are facing enormous struggles: staggering poverty and unemployment rates, backgrounds of terrible abuse, fathers refusing to acknowledge them, high mortality rates, and hopelessness and despair. It’s easy to say listening isn’t enough, but maybe it is the place to start. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in Life Together, “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them.”

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