There is a new Tom Hanks movie out called “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood“, about the life of Mr. Rogers. There is one scene that’s being mentioned over and over again in reviews. While sitting in a diner during an interview, Mr. Rogers asks a reporter to be silent for one minute. Mr. Rogers doesn’t speak, the reporter doesn’t speak, for one full minute. A full minute to just listen. There are no flashbacks, no inner-dialog, only silence. Two men are just sitting in a restaurant booth. A minute of silence with no action in a movie feels like an eternity. It’s something we all need to practice.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10
Anyone who follows the current political atmosphere in the US knows that listening to others is a lost art. People seek out their own echo chambers to hear opinions that only reinforce their own firmly held opinions. Even during the presidential debates, no candidate is actually listening to their opponent. They’re only impatiently waiting their turn to convince everyone else in the room that they are smarter than others, and that they have all the answers. It’s the American way. No one is listening.
Culture today is designed for us to have constant, overwhelming input. We are in a sound over-load in such a way that truly sitting in silence is rare and feels uncomfortable. Giving our undivided attention to someone feels odd. Headphones, where we can block out any other interaction, are a multi-billion dollar industry. Many people will keep the TV on in their homes just to have background noise, but is any of this constant input being intentional in a healthy way? Or is it a way to avoid truly listening, like rubbing our shin after running into the coffee table: if we over-stimulate our senses we don’t focus on the pain. Elevator music was initially added to distract people from the mechanical sounds that made them nervous, “Hey, listen to this music, not to what is really going on around you.” Too much input dulls the senses.
So what does this rant on listening have to do with missions and orphan care? Everything.
People often comment on the conditions of orphanage buildings as a way to judge the quality of the home. Clean, safe, cheerful buildings are important, but it’s better to judge a home with your eyes closed. Just listen. Do you hear healthy child noises? Are kids out playing, laughing, and being kids? Or are the kids lethargic, sitting and watching TV? Are the staff speaking in a respectful, encouraging way to the kids? Or are they yelling most of the time? What type (if any) of music is playing? Sounds can tell us so much if we stop and listen.
In a typical family, young children want and need more time from their parents. Not just being cared for, but listened to. One recent study claims the average father in America spends seven minutes a day talking with their child. Children need more. In an orphan care situation, this is even more important. A child needs to be listened to, to feel important, to feel like they matter. Listening to a child is one of the most direct ways we can show love to them. We know God loves us and is always available to listen to our petitions, thanks, and ramblings that we go through. We represent God to our children. If we can’t find the time to listen to them, what are we teaching them?
With missions, listening is critical to being effective. Often, individuals or teams come with great things to share, encouragement they want to give, and activities they have planned. It can be a little overwhelming to the people you’re visiting. Yes, you’re passionate and want to share about God’s love, slowing down and listening, really listening, to the people you’re serving shows them God’s love. Listening shows them they are important to you, and God. It shows them they are real people in your eyes, not just the target of your efforts. Short-term missions are all about building relationships, and relationships don’t happen without focused, intentional listening.
In any relationship, listening is critical. Healthy family, business, dating, marriage, and ministry relationships all need to start from mutual respect. Nothing shows respect like intentionally listening to the other person. It shows you care, it shows you’re interested, and it shows the other party they are important.
Today, take a moment to sit in silence for one minute. Make an effort to listen to the people in your life intentionally. Be still, decrease some of the input you surround yourself with to focus on what matters. It will change you, and your ministry, for the better.
You can help me by sharing this on Facebook or wherever you hang-out online. It helps more than you might know…