Every time I begin a counseling session, I make the same mistake. Every single time, the same mistake. I forget to deeply listen.
Oh, I hear the person talking. I can repeat back words and sentences, sometimes verbatim. I use a yellow pad, I face the speaker. I nod at regular intervals. But this is listening only in the most basic sense, it isn’t deep listening. It isn’t courageous listening.
Hopefully soon into my session, I remember. Honestly, it is most often a grace that wakes me up. A voice inflection startles me. Or the person pauses, not knowing how to verbalize the next thing, and the sudden interruption of silence shakes me. Other times, I hear myself ask a question that changes their facial expression. Then I realize, that something is happening here – something much more mysterious than an exchange of information.
My chronic “mistake?” I forget that every conversation is a possible epiphany. Every conversation is an entry point for a visitation from God. Come to think of it, maybe I ‘forget’ on purpose. Maybe my natural stance is to avoid epiphanies. Adam and Eve ran into the forest to avoid the conversation with God (epiphanic by definition). Maybe I am afraid too.
Deep listening therefore, must be courageous. When two people begin to talk, strange things happen. The image of God inside of us begins to emerge. Our need for God is expressed – however vaguely. Either confession of sin, or expression of sin; either desire for a god-like something, or a desire for God Himself. But no matter what we talk about – we are always talking as image-bearers. In every conversation, sometimes despite ourselves, we end up expressing our made-for-Godness. We cannot help it – it is who we are. And when you begin to show yourself, God sometimes shows Himself. You must be brave to deeply listen (or deeply talk). When you deeply listen, you are inviting God.
Every conversation circles the edge of a deep forest inside the human heart. The more people talk, the more they reveal (despite themselves) their favorite hiding places among the trees. Deep listening is patiently walking beside them deeper into their forest, one ear listening for them and with the other ear, listening for the approaching footsteps of God.
Deep listening is steadying another person. “Be courageous,” our ears are saying to them, courageous enough to invite God to find you.”
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. He works with both with individuals and couples, helping people confess their need and embrace their available choices to lead healthier lives. Roger also teaches and leads discussion groups and retreats applying the Gospel to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean and they have seven children and nine grandchildren.