The first thing we learn about God from the Bible is that he has a voice. Yet most of us never hear it. We read the Bible and pray, but our conversations seem one-sided. We appear to be doing all the talking. What are we to make of this?
In The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction (InterVarsity), Adam McHugh wants us to know that our God is also a God who hears. We should not mistake divine silence for disinterest. “Listening begins when we learn that our heavenly Father listens to us,” writes McHugh. “The pattern of human life may be to listen first, but with the Lord, we are always heard before we hear.” God’s apparent silence is not a mark of his absence. It means that we have his full attention.
The same should be true of our dealings with one another. “This book,” McHugh explains, “is predicated on the assumption that most of us are not good listeners.” As an ordained Presbyterian minister, McHugh has often served as a hospice chaplain. Presented with occasions for listening, he would instead seize the chance to speak: “I considered a moment of pain, crisis, or unfiltered emotion an opportunity to impart my insight, to rescue someone from their weakness, to correct distorted thinking, to evaporate the pain.”
McHugh eventually realized that this habit was devaluing the patient’s perspective. What is more, his efforts to fix others with words were really a desperate attempt to keep feelings at arm’s length: “Sometimes I tried to argue them out of the feeling, sometimes I tried to divert it with humor, sometimes I offered up quick reassurance like ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure it will all work ...