In the 116th Psalm, the psalmist tells us a short story about lamenting or crying out to God about something difficult and then feeling heard as a result:
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.(Psalm 116:1-2)
It sounds like the psalmist had been going through a tough time indeed. Verses 3 and 4 tell us that the psalmist was so stressed that the “anguish of the grave” came over him. I can just imagine the impact such stress had on his body: the increased heart rate, the broken sleep, the difficulty concentrating. To say the psalmist was going through “something difficult” almost sounds like an understatement compared to “the anguish of the grave.”
The psalmist says God “turned his ear” toward him as he cried out.
What a beautiful image.
As I read this Psalm, I imagine God sitting across from the psalmist, remaining silent for a moment, and leaning in closer to make sure nothing the psalmist said went unheard.
The act of quietly leaning in while listening is a physical demonstration of wanting to fully absorb what someone is saying. It’s a demonstration of a different kind of listening: not just the kind of listening we do when we’re trying to come up with a solution, but the kind of listening we do when we’re committed to empathizing and feeling more connected to the person we’re listening to.
The psalmist shows us that something changes in us and in our relationships when we are on the receiving end of deep listening. Notice what happens later on in the 116th Psalm: after being heard by the Lord, the psalmist is calm and settled enough to once again devote themselves to the Lord’s work (vs. 16-19). And because of this experience of feeling heard, the psalmist says that he will call on the Lord forever (v. 2). Through the psalmist, we see that feeling heard helps ground us enough to return to what life is asking of us and it helps us build trust with the person who has deeply heard us (v. 10).
Deep listening is a transformative gift God has first given to us. And once we have seen and felt the blessing of being heard by God, we’re invited and encouraged to give that same gift to one another.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
To answer before listening— that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
Several weeks ago, we began a practice of deep listening during our weekly worship services. It has involved 4 steps (not the only 4 steps, of course, but 4 intentional steps) of listening to the questions, feelings, celebrations and laments of others while resisting the urge to immediately jump to solutions.
Invitation: “What is one thing you’re praising God for and what is one thing you’re lamenting?”
Response: "I am praising God for ____ and I am lamenting _____."
Gratitude: "Thank you for trusting me with that part of your story."
"I celebrate/lament _____ with you."
"My hope for you is ______."
"I pray you grow more aware of God's nearness and your belovedness in this season."
When we give the gift of deep listening to others, we have the chance to demonstrate our trustworthiness and to potentially bless someone with enough settledness to keep forging on. And we also have the chance to hear how God moves in our lives and to practice being moved to compassion by the experiences of others.
A gift given and a gift received: deep listening has the power to change us from the inside out.