The joy of listening
A few months ago, I found myself sitting in an O’Hare airport terminal, waiting several hours for a delayed flight. I’d already exhausted most of my entertainment options—taking several laps up & down the long corridor of numbered gates, finishing a crossword puzzle, staring blankly at the CNN news briefs on the nearby TV.
So I decided to simply sit quietly, watching the whir of countless people walking by, carting their wheeled luggage behind them. Before long, I found myself listening to the conversation of a young couple sitting in the next row back. I couldn’t see their faces, but could hear the enthusiasm in their voices as they talked with their two children. They described the beach adventure that awaited them—once their flight finally took off—swimming in the ocean, building sandcastles, and visiting grandma & grandpa.
The kids—maybe around ages 4 and 6—asked endless questions about how long the flight would take or if there were TVs on the plane. And mom & dad continued to offer encouragement & excitement as the waiting seemed to drag on endlessly.
While, yes, this might fall under the category of “eavesdropping,” the longer I listened, the more I enjoyed the charming exchange happening behind me. I was not there to fix their problems. There was no advice to offer or wisdom to impart. I had no goal in re-directing the conversation towards my own interests. My only task was to listen & delight in their joy.
This is a rare endeavor for many of us. We so often listen to others with our own objectives in mind. We listen just long enough until we can figure out how to insert our own ideas or opinions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with such an approach—after all, if everyone only listened, no one would be talking. But perhaps there’s another kind of listening we could stand to incorporate a bit more into our daily lives.
A friend once shared with me a saying I continue to think of often: “There are two types of people in this world: those who walk into a room and say, ‘Here I am!’ and those who walk into a room and say, ‘There you are!’”
Likely all of our lives could benefit from a bit more of that curious, quiet kind of listening. The kind of hearing that moves towards “There you are! Tell me more!” and away from “Here I am! Listen to me!” Or in the words of the New Testament book of James: “Let everyone be quick to listen and slow to speak.”
Whether you find yourself in an airport terminal or an office waiting room, sitting across the table from an old friend or eating donuts with a crowd on Sunday morning, take some time to listen a bit more curiously. You might be surprised at what you hear.
– Katy Warren, associate pastor