Listening Builds Room

In Relationships by Laura Buffington

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Laura Buffington

Laura Buffington

Like Brad and Steve, I’m convinced these days that Listening is our only real hope. Listening might be the only way we’re going to create any kind of love out of a place designed to stir up and exploit hate.

Listening is as small and intimate as the thing that happens across coffee tables and bars when we tell each other stories. It’s as giant and cosmic as God sending out radio waves across the world about whether any of this matters. As much as I know Listening is Hope, I’m not great at it.

Not too long ago, I was thinking about all the people I know who listen well. I was deeply grateful for the time and conversational space they made for me to talk things out.

My own story has changed several times because something became more clear in that space between me and her or me and him or all of us. Sacred things happen when we listen. Pain gets smaller, dreams get bigger, loads get lighter, love gets richer.

That space is where we sometimes stumble onto true things. It’s where we let go of false things. It’s where we serve each other.

And the more I thought about all I had gained in those spaces, the more I wondered whether I ever made that kind of room for other people.

I started trying some things: Asking more open-ended questions. Leaving more room for the small talk I dread. Letting people finish their thoughts before I jumped in with mine. Remembering people’s stories so I could ask them about them again. Asking the next question that might put us both on the other side of our defenses. Eavesdropping on more people in coffee shops. (Not true. Ok, true.)

If I’m being honest, it was still about me at this point. It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to hear people out; it’s that I wanted to be the kind of person who heard people out. The surprising thing (that shouldn’t have surprised me) is the more I tried to listen to people, the more they wanted to talk. I would listen to a person one day and then go away feeling like I had conquered the world. But I failed to consider that they might expect me to listen again. I learned Listening is about so much more than listening.

Listening started saving me from myself. Something about listening quieted all my inner voices so that I not only heard my friends and my strangers, but there was room to hear God and the world.

Because here’s the thing: if I can’t graciously hear my friends, it’s going to be that much harder to hear Strangers in the world whose lives are different than mine. It’s going to be hard to do the Listening that changes the world if I can’t make it through my friend’s story about his long day.

There are a lot of good reasons for us to work on Listening, but the compelling one for me is the idea of a God who listens first.

If I care too much about all the brilliant things I might have to say that I can’t stop to hear anybody else, I need to remember that the God of wisdom lets other people speak.

The whole book of Psalms comes from people who assume that the God of the world wants to know how their day or life went. A God who might even listen to a boring story about their dreams.

We see this God behind the stories of Jesus, bending down to listen to children. Letting his disciples ask their questions, even when they’re the wrong questions. Leaning in as the woman at the well says her piece about truth and worship before he tells her his. We see this God in the Spirit who intercedes for us, hearing our version of our lives and our cares and translating them when the groans are too deep for words.

When we listen to each other across coffee tables, maybe even across hashtags, and oceans, we are, whether we know it or not, doing the very work of God.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Quinn Dombrowski

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Laura Buffington

Laura Buffington

Featured Storyteller
Laura Buffington is the Spiritual Formation Pastor at SouthBrook Christian Church near Dayton, Ohio and an adjunct professor at Cincinnati Christian University. She grew up in Columbus, Ohio but spent some good years in Tennessee at Milligan College and Emmanuel Christian Seminary. In 2013, Christian Standard named Laura one of the “Top 40 Under 40 Leaders.” While "Christian" shows up a lot in her life story and résumé, she wrestles a lot with faith and loves good conversations with people who see the world differently.