A year ago, my husband Shawn and I embarked on a new journey. We joined a marriage class at our church called Re-engage. Shawn and I married four years ago after the death of my first husband Ericlee. He joined our family of four girls (including me) when we were in the throes of grief and gently shepherded us through some tough transitions. Last January, I felt like it was time to focus my energy on investing in my marriage with Shawn.
In Re-engage, we learned some important Biblical principles about marriage, commitment, intimacy, and love. One of the most powerful lessons was on communication. The main thesis was “good communication is essential to achieving marital oneness.” Communication is defined not just as exchanging information but as mutual understanding.
As we worked through the homework and listened to the speakers that week in class, I was convicted that I needed to be a better listener in my marriage. Looking back on my life, I had prided myself on being a good listener. Through the years, many friends had confided in me. I had mentored several younger women, including my three daughters. This required good listening skills.
What I realized was that I was not always listening well to Shawn. Listening was hard partly because of our personality differences. Shawn is a thinker, an investigator, an introvert, an internal processor while I am an enthusiast, an extrovert, an external processor, and an activator. He’s not quick to speak or insert his opinions in conversation. He takes time to think things over and respond deliberately while I am off to the races, creating, strategically solving problems, and processing as I go. By nature, he’s a marathoner, and I’m a sprinter.
Part of Re-engage was practicing what we were learning. We asked each other questions and waited for our spouse’s honest responses. I realized that in order to show my love to Shawn I needed to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19, NIV).
One of the steps I’ve taken is to try to be a ready listener when my husband speaks. This is harder than I expected. This is challenging in a house where our three daughters, our phones, our work, and much more is competing for our attention. Perhaps the hardest thing for me is to listen and not respond until Shawn is finished talking.
Listening well is knowing there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7, NIV). Listening well is hearing not just with my ears but also with my eyes, heart, and body language.
Listening well has the potential to transform relationships. God modeled this throughout the Bible. I think of the Egyptian slave, Hagar, who escaped to the desert in Genesis 16. She was pregnant, abused, broken, and unwanted. I imagine she felt invisible and hungry for help. In the desert, an angel of the LORD, which scholars believe was God Himself, finds her.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
Genesis 16:7-8 (NIV)
This is a pivotal moment for Hagar because God seeks her out and cares about her story. Love listens. Let’s keep in mind He is the all-knowing God of the universe. He hung the stars in the sky and carved the ocean waves with His index finger. He knew every hair on her head, every heartache she had endured. He knew exactly where she came from and where she was headed, yet He took time to ask her about her story. He saw her in her desert place and listened well.
This encounter makes all the difference in Hagar’s life. God offers Hagar His Presence and a promise to greatly multiply her offspring until they will be too many to count. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are written into God’s glory story.
More than two thousand years later, we see Jesus Christ listen well to another woman in a desert place. In Mark 5, Jesus is on His way to heal the daughter of a synagogue leader named Jarius. On His way, a large crowd pressed in around Him, including a woman who suffered from bleeding for twelve years. The woman believed Jesus could heal her so she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His robe. Instantly, the flow of blood stopped in her body. She knew she was healed.
Jesus realized that power had gone out from Him. He turned and asked, “Who touched my robes?” Jesus knew all things. He knew who touched His robes, yet He gives her an opportunity to present herself and her story. She steps forward, falls down before Him, and tells Him the whole truth (Mark 5:33 CSB).
Again, this is a mark of a love that listens. Jesus allows her to interrupt Him on His journey and takes time to listen to her whole truth. Jesus not only physically heals her but also meets her spiritual needs by calling her “daughter” and assuring her that her faith has made her well. We are each called to listen well to our spouses, our children, our friends – our people. Especially in this uncertain time with the coronavirus spreading and so many quarantined, it’s important that we listen well. Even if we have to distance ourselves socially, let’s not let the Enemy have the upper hand in isolating our hearts.
I recently spoke at a conference for Asian American women called “Someday is Here.” Throughout the day, various women from diverse backgrounds were invited to share their stories of grief, hope, and God’s glory. There was an exhale that happened deep inside me, hearing the stories these mothers, mentors, and leaders have lived and overcome. In listening to them, I felt empowered to go out and continue living my story for His glory.
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