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I used to be a good listener. When I was little, I would find an unoccupied corner at the “big people table”, slip in, and listen to the adults talk for hours. Their conversations fascinated me and the personalities behind their words mesmerized me. I loved it so much, I perfected the art of eavesdropping.

Then I grew up. I decided my life was really interesting. I felt the need to enter into the verbal sparring we so often do – trying to one-up one another with a better stories, cutting someone off if they’re sharing something we don’t find interesting or relevant. I became good at tuning people out and waiting until it was my turn to deliver the next one-liner.

But I just spent a week with a group of the most phenomenal people on earth. They work 8am-8pm, without even a lunch break. They work to empower the children, youth and women in some of the poorest, most troubled rural villages on the planet. They’re responsible for mother & infant health clinics, youth groups, self-help and micro-enterprise groups, sanitation initiatives, and so much more.

I am amazed. Their work is breathtaking and their dedication convicts me.

I traveled with two other ladies whose goal was to learn about the programs for promotional purposes in their home country of Australia. I helped translate for them. Our main job was to listen and observe.

In our final “debrief” meeting, we asked the staff how working for the organization has changed their lives. We expected sound bite answers. We got entire life stories. The meeting went long by an hour and a half, full of beautiful stories. As we listened, it became obvious how much these people simply wanted to be heard. One of their leaders later pulled us aside to express how encouraging our listening had been to them.

It’s always amazes me how often in Scripture God is mentioned as “the God who hears”. David asks over and over that God would be “gracious to me and hear my prayer!” (Ps 4:1). Does it naturally occur to you to ask God to hear you? To rejoice that He does? I’d much rather rejoice that He’s done a miracle on my behalf. I’d much rather ask for His blessing than His ear.

It betrays something about us as human beings. More than miracles and blessings, we crave the knowledge that someone has listened. Not just someone who nods blankly while our mouths form words, but someone who leans in and connects with their heart and mind and puts themselves in your place and cries and laughs and groans in all the right places.

This week, I saw the deep place of a person that gets laid bare and moved when we stop everything, lean in and listen. I watched as reserved people opened their entire lives to us, trusting us with their stories, simply because we cared to listen. I was reminded why God is so often identified as a listener.

It made me want to shut my mouth more often. It makes me want to listen again.

When was the last time someone really listened to you? Are you a good listener?