By Rev. Caroline Osborne
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” - David W. Augsburger
Why is listening so powerful? Think about it: When do you feel the most known, the most cared about, the most accepted and valued? When someone listens to you intently.
Listening is powerful because the act of listening conveys that the listener acknowledges the God-given value of the speaker. We were all made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), we are all fallen and sinful (Rom. 3:23), and we all can only be saved by Jesus, not by our own efforts (Rom. 3:24). This is the true basis for all human value and dignity, making the infant with birth defects who dies hours after being born just as worthwhile as the greatest artist who ever lived. And one of the most powerful, most clear ways to acknowledge the inherent worth of an individual as someone made in the image of God who Jesus died to save is to listen to them, to give them your full attention in order to truly understand what they are trying to communicate.
Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. When we refuse to listen to someone, we are communicating a refusal to acknowledge that inherent value. When we refuse to listen to someone, we are denying that we recognize the image of God in them.
Conversations on subjects on which we disagree, especially when we disagree strongly, are challenging, to say the least. They put everyone on the defensive, and it can be hard to get past our differences of opinion and experience in order to have those conversations. Perhaps the best first step is to recognize the image of God in those trying to speak by truly listening to understand them. When was the last time you listened to understand and not to respond?