Listening Is like Exercise

I’ve lived in Birmingham, Alabama, for 12 years. Moving here was scary. It was the largest city I’d ever called home. I went to college with my roommates but had never lived with any of them before. Nonetheless, I took the leap. And it was terrible. I’ll spare the details but, as a result, I began to suffer from mild depression. I needed to talk to someone and work through what I was experiencing. I needed that individual to have no personal stake in my situation.

So, I found a Christian counselor. We talked about what was happening in my life, what had happened in my past, and what I wanted for my future. She gave me the confidence to face some issues, overcome some fears, and remember what true surrender to the Lord looks like. I moved out of that apartment. It was lonely and scary, but it was the right thing to do.

Since that phase of my life, I have tried to be the kind of friend and ministry partner who knows when others need to talk and is available to listen. And the trick to listening is that it’s like exercise. You have to do it to get better at it.

Truly listening isn’t about giving the best advice. Don’t try to formulate a response while someone is confiding in you; you’ll likely miss something important. Convey to the person who is talking that you don’t know everything. It’s humbling to say, yes. But it’s also true. It’s important for others to know that even if you can’t solve every problem they’re facing, you are willing to be a sounding board. And if you realize they need more than you can offer, don’t hesitate to encourage them to speak to a Christian professional. Trust me, sometimes having an unbiased person speak into your life is even more beneficial than the “I’m always on your side” opinion of a friend.

Most importantly, when learning to listen, remember that the most important relationship in your life is your relationship with the Lord. Sitting still long enough to listen to Him can try your patience. Following through with what you hear can test your faith.

Just a few months ago, after a year of praying about giving up a ministry where I’d been serving, I surrendered to what I heard God saying. Instead of leaving that ministry, I quit my full-time job. I took a part-time job in another ministry, and within a month of that change, the ministry I had prayed about leaving offered me part-time work as well. Now I have two part-time jobs where I’m challenged regularly but serving happily.

Learning to listen is an exercise in faith. It takes hard work and humility. You should be prepared to never completely master it. Nonetheless, it’s worth it. It will take you deeper into every relationship and allow you to grow in ways you may never have imagined.


Ryann Mitchell lives in Birmingham, AL, with her husband and one-year-old daughter. She works in adult education and serves as the children’s minister at her church.

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