Kairos—καιρός There are two words for time in Greek; chronos and kairos. The first identifies chronological time while the latter emphasizes an opportune moment in which to seize. God provides the moment and we are charged with responding to the opportunity.
In 1994, we in the San Fernando Valley experienced the “Northridge Earthquake.” During that time, walls came down (literally too) between neighbors. Neighbors were looking to one another for help and assistance. We had neighbors come to our home to use our shower, because their water was shutoff. We also provided sleeping bags and firewood for those who were sleeping in a nearby park, because they were fearful of future aftershocks if they were in their apartments.
Today, with the Coronavirus, we have another opportunity (kairos) to be there for our neighbors. This global crisis is upsetting our normal activities, but I see the Lord in all of this and what He has for us. First, I want to recommend that you read a letter that I posted on my Facebook page. The post was from a Christian wife who lives in Wuhan, the epicenter of the Coronavirus in China. They were in lockdown for 48 days at the time. I believe we as Christians need a healthy perspective when it comes to this virus and I believe this woman’s letter clearly offers just that. The letter is at bottom of my letter.
Second, it is important for us to see this pandemic as a global opportunity for the Church. Many of us will find ourselves, for the next two weeks or so, spending more time at home. This a great opportunity for us to care for our neighbors. Many of our neighbors will be living in fear and in need, especially the elderly. We can reach out to them in loving concern for their welfare.
For example, on the Nextdoor app, someone in my immediate community offered to buy groceries for any elderly person who was fearful of going to the store or unable to. Many on Nexdoor responded to this offer with high praise for this kind gesture.
The elderly are the most vulnerable with this virus, so they should be the ones we initially care for in our immediate neighborhoods and apartment complexes. I would suggest going to their homes or apartments first to see how they are doing. Here are a few of questions that you might want to ask them:
- How are you doing with all that is going on with the Coronavirus? How is it effecting you and others in your home?
- Do you have any needs that I can help you with, like groceries, ride to the doctor, or anything else?
- Is there anything I can pray about for you or any family members?
If you don’t know them, introduce yourself and let them know that you are their neighbor. This, I am sure, will be very comforting. If they don’t have a need or need for prayer, let them know that you will be praying for them. You might want to write your name and phone number on a piece of paper and let them know if a need arises to just give you a call to see if you can meet it.
I suggest that you do something similar with your other immediate neighbors and see what doors the Lord might open for you. Keep in mind, your help during this time should be relevant to the need of your neighbors during this crisis. For instance, if you have extra hand sanitizers or toilet paper that you can spare, you might want to offer them one.
Here are a few suggestions that I believe will be helpful to your neighbors during this crisis:
- I would begin by praying for your neighbors by name. If you are married, pray as a couple. If you have children, pray together as a family. This will bring incredible peace to your family. Plus, your children will become more focused on the needs of others in your community. This could be a great life lesson for them.
- I would encourage you to be more visible and available to your neighbors during this season. People will tend to hang out in their home, but I have found as I walk and pray for my neighbors that the Lord opens doors to connect with them.
- Because markets shelves have been emptied out, you might want to ask them how they are doing with food. Out of fear, hoarding has sadly become quite common. Sharing food products is a significant way of saying I care about you and encourages a worried soul.
- Another concern may be financial lack during the crisis. Many may be out of work and they may be coming up short. If you have the means, you might want to help them out. Even a small gift is encouraging to a desperate neighbor. Be sensitive, this may be embarrassing for them to receive a gift.
These are just a few suggestions that might get you thinking about how you can help a neighbor in crisis or one who is looking for someone in the neighborhood who cares about them. As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good (beautiful) deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you– better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away (Proverbs 27:10).
It’s all about PERSPECTIVE… I just read this from someone in quarantine (Quotes received listed below).
“WUHAN. It’s roughly day 48 of the city’s quarantine. We’ve been locked in our apartment complex for many weeks. I haven’t eaten out since January 19. We’re living in such strange times.
After my last post, which was all about locks on doors and further restrictions, my husband asked me if I’ve posted any of the good. But…but… well, but nothing. That convicted me.
So from the epicenter of the coronavirus, here is just SOME of the good we have been experiencing because of the lockdown: (Be warned – there is no way this post could be short.)
Our family life has never been better. Usually one weekend is long enough before I’m ready to send each of us back to school or work. But for SEVEN weeks, we’ve been home together with very little outside influences or distraction, forced to reconnect with one another, learn how to communicate better, give each other space, slow down our pace, and be a stronger family than ever before.
We’ve learned how to accept help from others. During this time, we’ve HAD to rely on others to show us how to get food and other things we need. People here are so good, and they want to help. It’s satisfying to accept the help.
Shopping is so much easier now. It comes straight to our complex, and we just pick it up. Simple.
Right now I hear birds outside my window (on the 25th floor). I used to think there weren’t really birds in Wuhan, because you rarely saw them and never heard them. I now know they were just muted and crowded out by the traffic and people. All day long now I hear birds singing. It stops me in my tracks to hear the sound of their wings.
Spring in Wuhan is absolutely stunning. God has been giving us glimpses of the beauty to come with near-perfect weather. Because of lockdown, we get to watch spring slowly unfold right in front of us with no work, traffic, pollution, or other distractions. I have pulled up my chair and am ready for the creator’s show.
My cooking has gotten way more creative. I’m cooking like a homesteader. Housekeeping hasn’t suffered, either.
We take naps in the middle of the day sometimes.
We’ve all been reading so much more than before.
I’ve reconnected with lots of old friends. We’ve talked with our families more than ever before.
We still work and do school, but all from home and all on flexible hours. It is not perfect, but it is fairly productive and good.
We are exercising more. Because we borrowed a rowing machine from school right before the lockdown, Edgar Franks has been rowing regularly at home and has lost several kilos already. I still walk in the morning as usual, but I do so with no time restrictions and now with friend Erika Carlson.
In my yoga world, I have finally done a forearm stand. I also share goofy yoga photos each day with a local friend/yogi. This keeps us connected in spirit and movement.
I could devote a whole post to the amazing community we’ve been blessed with because of this lockdown. We live near 4 other staff members, most of whom we didn’t know well at all prior to this. Because of this quarantine, we have bonded with and supported each other in ways that I’ve never experienced in 9 years of living here. (Crowd sourcing for feminine products and coffee, creatively sharing overstock of carrots and squash, etc)
Friday night, we four staff women celebrated Julia Marie Roehrkasse’s birthday together. We four have never before been together without husbands, kids, or larger community. But that night, I felt like I won the lottery in the friendship department. Our gathering was genuine in a way that can only be shared by people who are experiencing the same thing at the same time and understand what each other are going through. This bond we have may lessen when our world gets back to normal, but for now I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It is good.
My prayer life has never been better and my study time has been much more real. I have quiet time that is actually (usually) quiet – and I can devote real time to it. Most days I have so much more time to think, to listen, to process, and to discover. I am discovering the good gifts that God has given me and my family. More than anything, I am bowled over by his goodness at every turn. He overwhelms me with his goodness.
We had “church” by Zoom this morning at 10:30, as usual. My husband just woke up from his nap. My kid is reading quietly on the couch. I have the luxury of writing uncensored here on FB. We are about to go pick up a ham that a friend is giving us, taking her our coffee and cranberries to share.
God is providing so many opportunities for good while we are here, and he is showing us his goodness every single moment.
We are at peace in the epicenter of the virus. We are at peace in the epicenter of his will.
Fear is a faithless coward and has no place in the lives of believers. Fear and worry have no seat at our table. We’re here because he wants us here, right now, for his purpose.
Coronavirus wants you to isolate and stock up and take care of your own first. Instead, look to him first while you take care of others. In community, we can do so much more than we can do on our own. God is caring for us so richly and showering us with SO MUCH GOOD each and every moment.
And the song just plays nonstop in my head – Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
It chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the 99.
I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away. Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.
Psalm 118:6 – The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?
Compassion Knows No Bounds
“You’ll never meet a person you can’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:35-38
Jesus makes it abundantly clear to His disciples why He has such compassion for the crowds. He portrays the multitudes like harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd. He used this comparison because the disciples knew fully well what it meant for sheep to be without a shepherd. For those of us who don’t spend time with sheep, we are unaware of how grave it is for sheep to be left alone. Without a shepherd, domestic sheep will die. If they fall over on their back, they can’t right themselves. Sheep are defenseless animals and are so fearful that a stray jackrabbit will cause a flock of sheep to stampede. Without a shepherd, there is extreme tension between sheep…like we see among people in our cities today. However, when the shepherd walks up to the sheep all of this stops and they focus on the shepherd. It was Jesus’ intent to help His disciples, and us, to capture the human condition without the Good Shepherd. Those in our neighborhoods, without Jesus, are in this state and it should cause our hearts to go out to them. However, it’s common for us to see them differently, as Matt did in his story.
Matt and Jourdan Svajda’s Neighborhood
Have you ever been frustrated by a neighbor? I was getting so frustrated with my neighbor’s house appearance as it sat just a short walk down my sidewalk; it was clear that he didn’t take care of his home whatsoever. This guy frustrated me and I hadn’t even met him yet! There was trash everywhere in the overgrown, weeded yard. The fence that separated the front and backyards was thrashed, and the neighbors next door were even complaining. The beat-up car in the driveway had a few flat tires and clearly had been sitting there for a long time. Needless to say, it was a mess, and every time I walked past the house, frustration grew in me as I noticed new problems compounding. His house was the only one disrupting our perfectly put together little community we lived in. I wanted to write this person off as a “lost cause” and send the city after him for making our neighborhood look bad and causing our street’s real estate values to stumble.
But then one day as I was walking by his house glancing in contempt, it was as if God had asked me the question, “Do you think I have love for this neighbor of yours?” The question immediately paused my walk. As I processed, it was obvious I knew that God did in fact care for my neighbor and didn’t judge him because of his housing situation; obviously, I couldn’t say the same. In fact, I judged and came to conclusions about his entire life and we hadn’t even met. That day I walked past his house feeling convicted as my perspective was beginning to change. I now had a small seed of compassion toward him and wanted to get to know him. Then shortly thereafter, these 4 simple words changed my entire perspective about my neighbor Omid:
“Tell me your story.”
I invited Omid over for lunch, another day for dinner, and then another day for a potluck. Before I knew it, Omid was becoming a regular as his life started overlapping with ours. I learned that he was a single, 55-year-old Iranian man with a Muslim background. He shared how economic times have hit him hard and how the city had even been contacting him with phone calls and letters about his home. Losing hope in himself compounded daily and the more I learned his story, the more I felt for him and his situation. So, I decided to do something about it.
One day as I sat on his couch I asked Omid, “Would you allow me to give you a hand around your house? I’d love to serve you and I have some friends that would as well.” His immediate response was “No,” but he also asked “Why?” I pointed out that I was a Christian and that my role in this world is to love my God with everything I have and then to love my neighbor as much as myself. I then said, “You’re my neighbor.” It took him a bit, but I got a call from Omid the next week as he accepted my offer. I shared his story with my life group, and we raised close to a thousand dollars in a couple days. So, one Sunday morning from about 7am – 1pm, our life group “skipped church” to serve my neighbor. We landscaped his yard, built him a fence, and hauled away a ton of stuff to a rented garbage bin. Around 10am Omid came up to me and said, “Matt! Why are you here?” A bit confused, I looked at him and said, “What do you mean?” “Why aren’t you at church, it’s Sunday!” I paused a second and pointed to my friends declaring, “Omid, this is the Church…”
It took him a moment to process before replying to me in a soft, humbled voice. “I’m ready to hear about Jesus now.” So, I told him my story and the Gospel story. I told him how much God loved him. Over the coming months we met weekly in our neighborhood park to read God’s word together.
The infamous Mister Rogers once said, “You’ll never meet a person you can’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” These words are so true. Hearing and understanding Omid’s story helped me to begin seeing Omid as a person instead of a problem. Omid even gave his life to Christ shortly thereafter. I’m so humbled that God would still use me in my selfishness and brokenness. Little did I recognize how God was already at work and drawing Omid to Himself; he allowed me to participate in His redemption story and I’m grateful for that.
A time for reflection:
Most of us can relate to Matt’s story…I know I do. Like Matt, I have made superficial judgements of neighbors based on the way they have taken care of their home or property. But when I have got to know them and hear their story, often my view of them has changed. How about you, have you made premature judgements of neighbors without getting to know them? Is the Lord asking you a similar question, like he did Matt? “Do you think I have love for this neighbor of yours?” Maybe it’s time to get to know this neighbor or even put a team together to help this neighbor with their home or property.
(Matt and his wife, Jourdan, and three kids live on the Space Coast of Florida where God moved them to live as salt and light in their community. They run a ministry called Fiducia (fiduciacommunity.com) that helps activate the everyday Christian to live out their faith where they live, work, and play. They also lead a neighborhood-focused home church where neighbors like Omid can experience being part of the family of God.)
It’s Your Turn
“The best suggestions will come from the Helper.”
I hope the Lord has inspired you by these neighborhood stories and you have gained some insight as to how to more effectively love your neighbors. To help you get started in your own neighborhood, I am providing a helpful tool entitled “Prayer, Care Share.” Keep in mind this is only a tool, you will need to move out in your own neighborhood in accordance with the way the Spirit of God leads you. Neighborhood Initiative and the Love of God (available at the NI website) and the NI website (neighborhoodinitiative.org) provide a wealth of suggestions and helps for connecting with your neighbors, but these are only helps. The best suggestions will come from the Helper, the Holy Spirit, as you submit to His lead and ask for insight as to how best to reach your neighbors with the love of the Father.
Prayer, Care, Share
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” Colossians 4:2
Prayer for our cities begins at home and in our neighborhoods. Here’s a simple plan for “Prayer Walking Your Neighborhood.”
- Pray for your neighbors by name, considering their physical and spiritual needs, concerns, and health. Ask the Lord to show you what He is doing in your neighborhood. While you are walking and praying, engage any neighbors you may meet along the way.
- Wait on God. Your Father is already at work in your neighborhood. Wait for Him to invite you into what He is doing. This is a waiting with great anticipation.
- Watch to see what the Father is doing. As you are praying, He may reveal things through something He puts on your heart or speaks to you, as you talk to a neighbor, or as you see a need.
- Join your Father as He invites you into what He is doing in your neighborhood. Enjoy the adventure!
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
Care flows from a heart that is filled with compassion for those in your home and neighborhood. If you love them as yourself, your heart will go out to those in your neighborhood. As you pray for them, you will begin to care for them the way you care for yourself.
Here’s where you start.
- Co-laboring with God. Once the Lord invites you into what He is doing, recognize that this is His doing and that He will give you the grace to care for those in your neighborhood.
- Initiate conversation. The needs of neighbors are manifold. All you need to do is take some time to talk with your neighbors and before long they will fill you in on the needs of others who live on your block. Invite neighbors over for dinner or coffee and they will open up like a flower about what is going on in their hearts, their families, and the things that concern them most.
- Learn to ask good questions and then “listen.” Did I say listen? Resist trying to interject things to say while they are talking. It shuts down the flow of things coming from their heart. Offer to pray for them if it seems appropriate.
- Meet the Need. When a neighbor’s need becomes apparent, meet the need. They will never listen to our words, until they know we really care. Meeting the need may be just listening, or helping with something around their home, or providing food for them. Caring for them opens their hearts to relationship. Don’t be surprised if they want to help you. On the other hand, don’t be surprised if they never offer to help you.
- You can’t do everything. Keep in mind that every need in your neighborhood is not your responsibility. Sometimes you will have to say, “No.” A neighbor may want to take advantage of your kind heart and that’s where you need to be as wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. For some, this may be hard, but you want to be about your Father’s business.
- You may need a partner. Enlist others in your neighborhood to help you with larger tasks. Look for helpful neighbors who would like to help you bear the burden of a needy neighbor. Don’t do it alone. You will burn out and give up on caring for your neighbors.
“And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ…” Colossians 4:3
If you look at the accounts of Jesus sharing about Himself and the Gospel of the kingdom, you will never see Him do it the same way twice. No, never. Sometimes an account happened with very few words, like the man next to Him on the cross, but on other occasions they were lengthier. I love observing how He beautifully revealed who He was to the woman at the well. He was a master of the moment for sharing the Gospel. The Lord will give you these kinds of moments with your neighbors. It may be in a one-on-one situation, over a meal, in a small group setting . . . you name it.
Be ready to give an Answer.
When God opens a door for the Gospel, allow the Holy Spirit to speak through you as you share your story and then His story. We see the Apostle Paul using this approach in the book of Acts. Become effective in sharing the Gospel in this manner with your neighbors. Role-playing is a very helpful tool for training.
Here are a few pointers for getting started:
Share your story.
Write out your story and include these three parts:
- What your life was like before you met Jesus.
- How you came into a relationship with Him.
- What your life is like now that you have Him in your life.
Be able to share your story in just a few minutes, depending on the situation.
Share His story.
- Read the Gospels so you become familiar with the big picture of Jesus’ life, ministry, the cross, and resurrection.
- Memorize verses that you can share when you are imparting the Gospel. The more verses you memorize, the freer you are when sharing the Gospel.
- Of course, you can take them to one of the Gospels and let them read it (or you can read it) and give their impressions as they read. So often, we want to give our understanding first, but allow them to respond with their thoughts. When they begin to ask you questions, then you have earned the right to speak. 1 Peter 3:15
Listen to their response.
Ask them their response to what they have heard or read to see if they are receptive and open to the Lord.
If they are responsive, stay with them.
If they listen to you and what they have heard, stay with that person, as Jesus said. You have found a person of peace. Devote time to the relationship and help them in their new walk with Lord. Also, the person of peace, more than likely, has a network of relationships in their neighborhood, their family, and friends. We see this over and over in the book of Acts where whole families and extended family members come to faith. Think multiplication. From the beginning of creation, the Lord emphasized to Adam and Eve be fruitful and multiply…the same is true with the advancement of His kingdom.
Enjoy The Kairos Adventure as you join the Father in your neighborhood and beyond. May the Lord give you stories that will inspire others* to love their neighbors as well.
* I would love to hear your neighborhood story. Email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Miracle for Five Guys
“Negative characteristics that defined this homeless man were barriers that kept people like ‘us’ away from him.”
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:37-40
It is easy for us to dehumanize and categorize the people Jesus mentions here. But He lifts these people to a higher level by indicating that when you care for one of them you are doing it to Him. Through the years, I have spent time talking with and listening to homeless people…this has helped me remove a critical view of the them. I have found that homeless people are all uniquely different. Some have chosen intentionally to live on the street. Where others have fallen on hard times and they are trying to get their feet back on the ground. Some of these would not want anything from you, but others would appreciate any help you can give them. I remember talking with a homeless man in Palm Springs, California, we sat down on a bench together, on the main street in town, and talked for quite some time. He shared with me his background…he used to be a tennis coach in the local high school. During our warm exchange, I was heartened by this man’s life and was grateful for the privilege to spend time with him. The homeless are our neighbors and are to be cared for as Jesus points out here. Our neighbors are not just those who live next door, but those who cross our path as John points out in his story with Dave.
John Tolle and Four Guys Neighbor
“Five Guys” is the name of a fast food restaurant chain but we are five men who intentionally stepped out yet stumbled our way into neighboring a homeless man.
Unkempt, unshaved, matted hair, rotted and missing teeth – you get the picture. This was Dave five years ago and today he is my friend and brother in Christ.
Most nights saw Dave asleep adjacent to a local freeway in his encampment. And every morning he would make his way to a local restaurant to buy a cup of coffee with the money he had collected while panhandling the day before. He pretty much kept to himself though he’d engage if talked to. One Sunday, I was introduced to Dave by a group I came to affectionately call, Panera Church. They graciously extended themselves to this wonderful man and allowed me into their fledgling circle of friendship. That was five years ago.
Nationally ranked as a high school swimmer, Dave earned a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious, sports powerhouse university. He was on top of the world. But!
Injuries, drugs, partying, and a whole host of other human demons robbed him of his privileged life and in time reduced Dave to the loneliness of homelessness. It didn’t happen overnight, but it happened. Make no mistake, Dave was bright, gifted, and personable, yet he’d fallen on hard times and much of it by his own choosing.
All the negative characteristics that defined this homeless man were barriers that kept people like “us” away from him and God had his hands full while dealing with us.
In time, each of us came to understand that we needed Dave as much or more than he needed us. He was our neighbor. Jesus said so. (1)
The process of neighboring has been a rewardingly costly one as love and obedience usually are. Time, energy, finances, you name it. It was a slow process. Then we lost him. He disappeared. Years of investment down the tubes or so we thought.
About a month later we received a message. Dave was in the hospital barely able to communicate. He’d had an aortic aneurysm. He credits God’s “loud voice” as having prompted him to dial 911. Barely conscious when the paramedics arrived, Dave died while being rushed to the hospital. Marginally revived by the ambulance crew, he was rushed into emergency surgery only to suffer a heart attack and stroke while on the operating table.
Recuperation was difficult but his recovery miraculous! God has restored Dave’s health. Today he has a full-time job at the very restaurant where we met. He rents a room in a home and attends church regularly. He belongs to a men’s Bible study group and has lunch with his pastor every week.
God gave each of us to the other as a neighbor.
The willingness and obedience of five men continues to be a neighborly blessing to Dave and his loving friendship to us has enriched us beyond description. Dave is a miracle . . . and a miracle to five guys.
1) Luke 10:25-37
A time for reflection:
John’s story helps to humanize and remove the stigma that we often place on homeless people. This is a wonderful account of redemption. What John doesn’t go into detail on is how long and difficult this process was. What God called John and his four friends to do is not what He may call you to do. Caring for a homeless neighbor is best seen as an opportunity (kairos) where God lays an individual on your heart in the moment or over time and directs you to care for them in some way. I caution you, as Jesus did his own disciples, be wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove. (Matthew 16:10) We can be moved by John’s story and foolishly walk into a situation where we have not heard from God and find ourselves in a situation we may regret. Helping a homeless neighbor should include prayerfully considering the following: 1) Have you asked the Lord if you should help in some way? 2) What would the Lord like you to do to help this person? 3) Like John and his friends, is this something you should do with another person(s)? 4) What kind of commitment should you make to this person? Remember to seek counsel from people with wisdom.
(John Tolle was born in Los Angeles and grew up as a missionary kid in Central America and pastor’s kid in California. While attending college he answered the call of God to prepare for pastoral ministry. He has served in a variety of ministry roles but is best known for being a pastor. John and his wife, Rosemary, reside in Thousand Oaks, California. They have four grown and married children with ten grandchildren. It doesn’t get any better than that!)
Listening Is Counterintuitive
“I just listened, without interruption.”
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19, 20
Genuine listening is a virtue. Very few are good at it today, but when you come across one who is, you generally value their friendship. I was asked by my good friend David Sanford to read the manuscript of his book Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think. I was captivated by the idea that much of how we should be relating to neighbors is counterintuitive, that is, contrary to our intuition or common sense. Listening to neighbors, without interrupting them during the flow of their story is certainly different than what we normally do in conversation. We tend to want to interject something. For instance, when they are sharing something about themselves we like to say something like this, “That reminds me of __________.” Or, “I had that same experience.” We think we are relating to what they are saying, but actually we are hijacking their story to talk about ourselves or something that we think is more significant than what they are saying. When we allow them to tell their whole story without interrupting we speak volumes to them. We are communicating that what they are saying is important, in fact, we are communicating that they have worth. Listening is a door into a person’s heart. David Sanford answers the following significant question in his chapter on listening: “How do we get today’s generation interested in God’s stories? By genuinely being interested in hearing their stories. Loving by listening. And listening some more. Without saying anything. Not a word.” This chapter on listening spoke to me and here’s what happened the following day.
Lynn and Jo Cory’s Neighborhood
The next morning, I walked out my front door. My neighbor, Michael, walked out his front door at the very same time. So, I walked across the street. We were standing on his sidewalk chatting for a few minutes. Then, during the course of our spontaneous conversation, Michael started to tell me at length about his wife’s upbringing, her family, and much more. I thought about what I had read from David’s book the day before. Instead of doing what I might normally have done, I did what was counterintuitive. I just listened, without interruption. I didn’t interject my own comments or try to identify with the story. So, Michael completely opened up and shared his wife’s whole story in detail. It took nearly an hour. When he was done, Michael said, “Lynn, thanks for listening to my story.” I could tell it really meant a lot to him. Then Michael corrected himself. “Actually, that wasn’t my story. That was Barbara’s story.” I replied, “Michael, the next time we get a chance to talk, I’d like to hear your story.”
A time for reflection:
That experience was very confirming that when we listen, people open up like a flower and really express what’s on their hearts. If we interrupt, however, it stops the flow of what they’re saying. Listening is a discipline. It isn’t easy to do. We think we have something equal or better to say, or we want to ask a question. But our neighbor isn’t ready to be questioned. He or she is in the flow of thought. So, we need to let them keep talking until it’s all out. David is right. This is very counterintuitive. Granted, there’s a place to ask questions. Then when the answer starts to come, we need to quiet down, and let them talk until they’ve said everything they want to say. I walked away from the conversation with Michael confident that he felt heard, and that he would be willing to talk again. Why? Because I was willing to listen and not interrupt him. In our day, we have to pay big bucks to hire a counselor to listen to us without interrupting. Other people aren’t willing to listen like that. They really aren’t. That’s the secret. I think when we listen, people are more vulnerable and willing to open up and talk if they know they have someone who genuinely cares enough to listen to them. Let’s do just that! Do you find yourself hijacking other people’s stories or have you experienced others interrupting you when you share yours? The next time someone begins to share their story, practice the discipline of listening. Like a muscle, the more you exercise it the better and stronger it gets.
(Much of this chapter on listening and my story is taken from David Sanford’s book Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think.)