"You have two ears and one mouth, so perhaps God wants us to listen twice as much as we speak." I often heard those words from my mom while growing up. As an extroverted adult, those words still reverberate in my mind.
How many times have you simply asked the Soularium questions when someone opens up to reveal stories which they say they haven't told anyone else? I remember one of those moments with a student in New York City. She had a lot of time to think during her three hour round trip commute on the train four days a week, and very few people to share those thoughts. When I invited her to describe her experience with God the flood gates opened.
It is a gift to have someone fully listen to you: when they lean in, ask real questions, show empathy, reflect back what they hear from you. It takes time to listen like that. The faster, more efficient, and more common way to listen is to jump in with your own story rather than exploring what someone is saying behind the words.
According to a book I recently read, there are three different levels to listening and it is a skill that campus ministers have multiple opportunities to practice and develop since we listen to so many different people every week.
Level 1: Internal Listening
This is your typical, everyday style of listening to the actual words spoken, then searching for a similar story, or better yet, something a bit more daring or extreme. It's a surface level of engagement for the least amount of information necessary to move forward and make decisions. At this level, our main interest is ourselves and we listen for how the words will affect us personally.
There are times when this level of listening is suitable and fitting, like when asking for directions, because our most important priority at the time is ourselves.
Level 2: Focused Listening
With focused listening, the central person in the conversation is the one doing the speaking, with less emphasis on the distractions or the listener. We listen for more than the individual spoken words. We hear the emotion, we pay attention to body language, and that internal voice which often prompts us to one-up the stories is quiet. We aren't focused on ourselves, rather, we're listening for all the information behind the words shared, and the words not spoken.
Level 3: Global Listening
This third level of listening is where we lean on our intuition and senses, according to the book. As a Christian, I think this is when we lean hard on the Holy Spirit and He reminds us of Scripture, or gives us a powerful question which can result in an "aha" moment .
It's common to slip back and forth between internal listening, focused listening and global listening. Good listeners will privately acknowledge when they've shifted the focus to themselves, and after silencing the distractions, will move to focused or global listening. With awareness and intention, we can develop the skills to bless people with our two ears and wait for the Holy Spirit to fill our mouth with words at just the right time.
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