How to Create a Legacy of Loving Listening
Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.” 1 Samuel 25:17
Floundering during a project, I knew I needed some feedback. My husband, Barry, is always a willing helper, so I ran my questions by him. And then I pretended to listen.
“I need your communicator’s brain. Which of these sentences do you think works better?” I queried. “Are there any words you have trouble with? If there are, what would you substitute?”
Barry generously put his task aside and began to share his ideas with me. The only kink in this scenario was that instead of handing my original idea the gold star I was secretly seeking, he came up with other thoughts. Although they were better ideas, I stubbornly clung to my own.
One by one, as he offered the suggestions I had asked for, I shot them down, revealing I wasn't really listening at all. I was critiquing.
“I don't think women will identify with that.”
“Hmmm … I think that word's overused.”
“That won’t work.”
Suddenly, Barry grew silent, and I looked up into his handsome face. At the beginning of this little exercise, he looked thoughtful and anticipatory. Now he looked discouraged and totally over it.
I quickly apologized, asked for his forgiveness and told him I’d stop criticizing and truly listen if he’d keep suggesting.
It’s easy to arrange our faces as if we’re listening — while really, we’re just composing responses in our heads — but it’s daunting to truly listen. Yet, Scripture holds a story which shows us that listening leaves a legacy.
First Samuel 25 contains a better-than-Hollywood narrative in which Abigail, described as both intelligent and beautiful, is the lone soul standing between a furious future king and the annihilation of her community.
At the beginning of the true tale, her “surly and mean” husband, Nabal, starts the fight when he treats David, the soon-to-be-sovereign, with contempt. An eavesdropping servant, who recognizes the danger of the situation, rushes to Abigail and describes the life-threatening crisis. The servant ends by saying, “Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him” (1 Samuel 25:17).
Let’s pause and think about the legacy revealed in the servant’s words about each of the people in this story. The servant says Nabal is so wicked “that no one can talk to him.”
Nabal’s legacy is that he doesn’t listen.
But the servant bolted to Abigail’s side to both spill the story and trust her to intervene.
Abigail is known for listening.
The next line in the story says, “Abigail acted quickly” (1 Samuel 25:18a). Because she is a good listener, people like the servant tell her things, and they trust that her listening skills will lead her to wise action. Abigail listened for understanding and with discernment, both traits of a great listener.
Abigail displays her character in this passage with what she doesn’t say rather than with what she does. Instead of:
a pithy response …
a story about herself that shows she can relate …
a change in subject since this one was too intense …
a criticism of the servant’s assessment (ahem, note to self) …
Abigail absorbs the servant’s information in respectful silence and then acts. She proves she’s a good listener with an appropriate response. Although Abigail’s example shows me I still have a lot to learn, she inspires me to grow.
In our interactions with others, we have to resist the urge to zone out, dismiss or otherwise become known as someone who doesn’t listen. The words of others deserve our attention and respect. With a heart to change, we can learn to be more like Abigail, leaving a legacy of being a loving listener.
Lord, teach me to listen for understanding and with discernment, both to others and to You. I want to leave a legacy of being a loving listener. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
James 1:19, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Think of one obstacle that keeps you from truly listening. How might practicing good listening change your relationships?
In the next conversation you engage in, practice some of the listening tips from this devotion.