To Hear and Be Heard

Ear 2    She stood in the parking lot between me and the JAARS library door. I had come to our mission center to run some errands, but I could see by her expression that she wanted to talk. A small, quiet hello. A smile that didn’t touch the liquid pain in her eyes. Her kids are in our youth group, and I know parts of their story. Like nearly all our families, transition and loss, grief and turmoil have been part of their reality. We’d had several conversations about these issues recently. Now was not a good time.

Mentally scrolling through the list of things I needed to accomplish, glancing at my girls waiting patiently in the car, I forced a smile and tried to remind myself that this is why we are here in this ministry. To listen. And normally I love to listen to the families we serve, to hear their hearts. When it’s convenient for me.

Not now with the white noise of my own priorities filling my ears.

And so I greeted her with a hug, and instead of asking how she was and opening the door to genuine conversation, I told her that soon, soon we would get together.

And to my shame, I stepped past her, letting her voice and an opportunity get lost in the rushing wind of my hurry.

My failure makes me think of another woman I know. I don’t know her well, but our paths cross occasionally. This woman is a musician, in the spotlight, with a recognizable face and voice. She tours, she flies coast to coast, she gives interviews, she does charity events, she has a family and friends. I do not know how there are enough hours in this woman’s day. If anyone has the right to be frantic and harried, it is her.

But she has taught me, perhaps more than anyone I know, about the priceless gift of focused listening. I have watched her during sound checks or in the quiet of a little backstage area lock eyes with people who have come to hear her and be heard by her. And this woman, who has learned how to love a stranger wordlessly, shuts out her schedule and the long line of faces expectantly turned her way and listens to the one. In her gentle, unhurried way, she communicates, “Your story has value. You have value.”

It’s not that she never speaks. In fact, it is this woman who told me I should put pen to paper, that she believes I have a way with words. She is wise and has much to say if she chooses. She just chooses silence when others have a need to speak, knowing that in the telling of their stories, they will often find the seeds of healing.

And now in the ragged quiet, my thoughts turn to a Man I know. His fingers spun the galaxies out of darkness. In him we live and move and have our being. He holds everything together.

During the thirty-three exhausting years his feet walked the dirt here, he paid attention to the wrong people.

Grubby fishermen.

Thieving tax collectors.

Powerless little kids.

Used-up women with nowhere else to turn.

Needy, broken, noisy crowds desperate for one word, one glance. They had nothing to offer him but their battered selves.

But time after holy time he paused and focused on individuals, met them in their mess and listened.

And I breathe thanks, because today I am the Samaritan woman at the well, hiding and thirsty and wanting answers. I am the woman bleeding, stretching to brush the hem of his robe. I am blind Bartimaeus, hoarse and crying, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

    Have mercy on me.

The next time my friend, the woman whose eyes shine hurt, needs to talk when the time isn’t right, may I remember that heartache can’t be packaged or paused. May I think of the unhurried musician who silently speaks value in her choice to hear. May I remember that the best ministry is done during the interruptions. That I am broken and desperate and needing to be heard, too, and that my schedule is far less precious in the sight of God than a single lonely soul.

And may I set my own agenda aside, lock eyes with her, and take a few moments to remind her gently, wordlessly that she matters.

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Scripture taken from Acts 17:28, John 4:7-14, Luke 8:43-48, and Mark 10:46-52. (NIV)

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