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The Art of Listening: Truth and Tone

The Art of Listening: Truth and Tone

The Art of Compassionate Conversations

“Sir,” the woman said, “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can You get this living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” John 4:11–15

A few years ago, I visited an audiologist to have my hearing tested. Unfortunately, my hearing seems to be diminishing, and for some odd reason, it correlates to the frequency my wife speaks on. She playfully refers to it as “selective hearing” — at least I think that’s what she said. After a consultation, the doctor led me into an isolation booth and fitted me with a clunky headset. To my surprise, my hearing was deemed relatively good, dashing my hopes of attributing my listening lapses to a medical condition.

I did discover, however, that because of an auditory processing disorder there are some frequencies that I can’t hear anymore. Apparently, as we age, we lose the ability to hear certain high-frequency sounds, especially in loud environments like restaurants, discos, and church services. Okay, I made the disco part up to avoid dancing, but I’m not giving up food or Jesus. Sadly, I don’t hear conversations well when there is a lot of background noise, which is a problem, since I spend a lot of time in loud rooms with loads of background noise.

Sometimes it feels like our whole culture is going through an auditory processing disorder and we’re losing our ability to hear one another.

Life is loud.

The world is a cacophony of sound, a screeching symphony of noise, where quiet stillness is a precious gift, a rarity that dwindles with each passing day. Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist, mourns the loss of silence, naming it one of the “endangered species” of our modern age.1 Perhaps it is the turmoil within our own hearts that perpetuates the absence of serenity in the world around us.

When was the last time you found solace in the stillness, contemplating the state of your community, and pondered ways to serve it with grace?

When was the last time you tuned in to the lamentations of those around you and, instead of offering hasty solutions, simply lent an ear and a heart to heal?

When was the last time you listened to the whispers of your neighbors’ hearts yearning to be seen, valued, loved?

There are so many raised voices and loud noises clamoring for our attention. I can’t remember a time when everyone was screaming at the same decibel level. From politics to products, everyone has their cause, and they are eager to shape our consciousness. I can’t imagine what the world will feel like in the future if we keep shouting at one another across tables and on social-media platforms and in forums of every kind.

Amid the cacophony of life, the fight for dominance never ceases. Each technological marvel further intensifies the voices that compete for our attention. Although I embrace the positive potential of technology, I cannot ignore its potential to consume us if we’re not vigilant. It has already opened new avenues for spreading hope, yet the path it takes must be carefully monitored to ensure it serves our purposes, not the other way around.

Sometimes the loudest noise isn’t around us, it’s in us.

Do you find your thoughts racing more these days? Do you struggle to quiet your mind? Do you talk out loud to yourself in a desperate attempt to sort through the competing ideas in your head? Yeah, me neither. I think that the noise in us is the loudest because we hear it in our own voice. The negative self- talk in our heads is worse than any troll on Twitter.

  • All of this noise makes it really hard for us to hear ourselves, let alone each other.

Deep conversations require the willingness to abide in quiet moments no matter how uncomfortable they make us. Sitting in silence with another person is scary. What if we don’t know how to respond? What if the conversation gets heated? What if they say something offensive?

It’s easier and so very tempting to jump in with answers, responses, and assumptions when all we really need to do is listen.

The Ministry of Listening

Within the opening verses of her story, the Samaritan woman delivers four lines of dialogue while Jesus responds with only two brief sentences. Her words seem to convey a sense of incredulousness as she questions whether Jesus is greater than Jacob. Instead of becoming defensive or agitated, He remains attentive, curious, genuinely hearing and addressing the underlying pain behind her questions. Perhaps there is something significant for us to glean from this exchange.

The art of listening is an essential skill for every Christian.

Approaching others with a willingness to listen, free from judgment or interruption, holds great power in cultivating trust and fostering genuine relationships. Conversely, refusal to listen often leads to assumptions about one another, which become barriers that hinder our witness. When people sense judgment and condemnation, their defenses rise swiftly. But when they feel heard and understood, they find a sense of safety, enabling them to share their stories.

Deep listening does not mean we have to agree with what is being said, but we must embrace the idea that human connections are more important than conversational outcomes. Something of value may be said that we can learn from.

Throughout their conversation, the Samaritan woman progressively feels safer in the presence of Jesus, allowing her to gradually open up to Him. She became receptive to His words as she sensed that her voice was being heard. Jesus’ ability to listen attentively amplified her curiosity and receptivity to his message.

  • Our listening suffers when our curiosity is contained.

Engaging in a ministry of listening surpasses merely leaving gaps in the conversation for others to interject their thoughts. We have all experienced situations where someone remained quiet, yet we knew they were not fully present or attuned to what we were saying. Instead, genuine listening entails offering our undivided attention to the person before us. When we wholeheartedly invest ourselves in a conversation, it influences our tone and manner of responding. We become more intentional about filling silences and more measured in our replies.

This profound human connection paves the way for deeper and more compassionate communication.

  1. Gordon Hempton, “Silence and the Presence of Everything,” May 10, 2012, in On Being with Krista Tippett (podcast),

Excerpted with permission from Loving Samaritans by Terry Crist, copyright Terry M. Crist.

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Your Turn

How is Jesus’ mode of conversation different from yours? What about His approach is most meaningful to you? How can we better improve the way we affect others in conversation? Come share with us. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily