Listen: Week 4 | Day 4

It can be too easy to make assumptions or presumptions about what we or others need. Br. Keith Nelson explores how listening itself can be an act of loving service.

Question: What is the balance between your listening and your speaking?
Share your answer in the comments below or using #5marksoflove
Activity: God Sighting Map

Transcript: Those of you familiar with the Rule of St. Benedict, will probably know that one of the first words in that document is “listen.”  We get this idea of monastic obedience from the Latin, ob audire, to listen.

So I think that in our response to human need by the offering of loving service one thing that strikes me is that I often don’t know precisely what my own needs are, or the needs of another person, unless I stop to actually listen.  I’ve noticed that if I make an assumption, or a presumption about what I need in a particular moment, without listening to myself, without listening to my body, without listening to my imagination, my desires, that I can often make a particular connection in a knee-jerk way that isn’t in fact accurate or relevant

So I think that the power of this kind of deep listening with our whole-hearted presence to ourselves, to God, and in particular to other people, is really at the core of responding to human need.  I think that amazing things happen when we’re listened to.  When someone listens to us with their wholehearted presence, we’re able to identify needs perhaps that we didn’t even know that we had.  I think it’s one of the reasons why therapy is so popular and effective in our culture these days, because professional listeners sit down with you, and you have access to this whole world that perhaps you didn’t know about, simply because someone is listening.  It’s the same for spiritual direction or spiritual companioning.

And if we think about the relationship to that as an act of loving service, responding to human need by loving service, the listening becomes the way in, to responding and love, because we’ve actually heard what the need is.  And because we’ve heard it, we can take a step closer, through the grace of God, and through Christ’s power acting in us, to respond in the ways that we’re able.

A question you might want to ask yourself is, “What’s the ratio or the balance in your life, both in your life with God, as well as in your life of loving service to those around you.  What’s the balance between your deep, whole-hearted listening, your posture of listening, your stance of listening, and your speaking?”

– Br. Keith Nelson

Question: What is the balance between your listening and your speaking?

Week 4 Activity: God Sighting Map
This week, create your own “God Sighting Map,” which locates God’s presence and activity in your surroundings and in your interactions with others. Start close to home, then move out into your neighborhood and community. Who or what has been a sign of God’s love to you today?

Watch Video Guidance | Download Activity as PDF | Sample Completed Activity


  1. David Cranmer on March 26, 2017 at 21:51

    Listening is something I do not do well. Often I am so impatient that I try to finish the sentence of the other person. And often I discover later that I totally misunderstood what the person was saying. I need more patience and also I need to take focus off self so that I am more open to others.

  2. jane tiernan reilly on March 25, 2017 at 21:46

    Thank you for listening. Thank you for sharing your insight on listening. Thank you for speaking about the grace of listening. Blessings.

  3. Bryan Cook on March 24, 2017 at 09:17

    In addition to my resolutions prompted by Kristi and Stan, I must always remember to take the time to listen inwardly:
    – to what my body is saying, for without health I become limited in my ability to contribute to God’s Mission; and
    – to what God is telling me in many ways, for without receiving, understanding and following His Instruction, I would follow my own pride into “Hell”.

  4. JP on March 22, 2017 at 23:57

    I’m a really good listener. That’s pretty much what I do, I’m pretty introverted. Since my husband died I lived alone. Which was OK, but I invited a friend to live with me in June (roommate) because I thought it would be good for her and me (social contact). She had health issues.. I was feeling disconnected from my church, where I thought I had friends, and stopped going when my roommate had to start chemo. My church never contacted me. Kind of a hard way to find out how much they noticed? My roommate died end of January and I’ve just been praying, a lot.. God’s not that great a conversationalist and I’m tired of doing all the talking. I don’t really want to go back to that church. At least I matter to God.

  5. Stan on March 22, 2017 at 22:11

    I absolutely agree with Br. Keith’s poignant message in this lesson. We have five senses, and they are the only way that we have of bringing the rest of the world into our own world to consider. And for me, my sense of hearing seems to be especially acute. Yet, in order to consume what I’m hearing, I need to actually listen to it, and consider it. Otherwise, it just comes in one ear and goes out the other. This is how to gain the full richness of music, and if the music is spiritually or emotionally conceived, you can actually get to “know” the composer’s feelings at the time he or she was composing the work. Music is a very human thing. So imagine listening to another human who is speaking to you, with whom you’ve had plenty of “shop talk” and “small talk” before, but you suddenly looked that person directly in the eyes and really started actively listening to what was being said. And if you thoughtfully respond according to what that person says to you, the conversation could go in a completely different direction, and you might get to know each other on a whole different level. You grow closer, and you’re each better able to understand and care about each other’s needs.

    • Bryan Cook on March 24, 2017 at 09:06

      Thanks Stan,
      A poem, like music, is not fully appreciated until it is read out loud especially by the poet; and it can have a completely different meaning when read aloud by someone else.
      So when I listen to someone it should be their poetry and thier message I should be attentive to and I should set aside my own internal attempts to reinterpret the purity of that message at least in that moment.
      This is not easy for me as I come with alot of baggage of my own including pride prejudgement and prejudice. And I should only respond if that is what the speaker wishes, not when I think I should.
      Pure listening alone, which can even be in silence, is a powerful healing process.
      You also highlighted the important adjunct to listening……eye contact. I should be aware of my eye and body languages when I listen; they too can contaminate the purity of listening with my own baggage. However, I do not think they can be neutral and some aspects of these languages can encourage openess and receptivity.
      I am sorry that this seems too have unintentionally turned into a sermon, again another bad habit of mine, but the topic is extemely important for me to understand and practise. Cheers, Bryan

  6. Ruth West on March 22, 2017 at 21:45

    This is such a good mark of love. Oftentimes, Christians are hesitant to visit the sick, the shut-in, or incarcerated because they say,”I don’t go because I don’t know what to say.” It isn’t necessary to have a prepared speech. Most of the time, the person only wants your presence, just a listening ear. This hesitancy is not limited to lay people. I have known several priests who have said that they hate going to nursing homes and hospitals. Why, I don’t know, but just to have one come, sit by the bed and listen is a wonderful gift.
    I admit that I have not done enough of it. I don’t get out much anymore, but I do listen often on the phone. I have a close relative who is so anxious to be heard. I am having God teach me to be lovingly patient and listen deeply to that one’s needs, without spouting back needless advice.
    Your homily in explaining this mark of love is so welcome. Thank you.

  7. Kristi on March 22, 2017 at 19:30

    I think of myself in general is a very good listener but I know there have been countless times when I was with a friend listening to them but in the back of my mind assuming that I knew what they really needed and was already planning what my response would be. But in my opinion that is not truly listening. I think you can be really difficult to just sit and purely be there for someone strictly by listening and not waiting for your time to respond or give them what you think they need. True listening is selfless and an act of love because the person really feels heard, which is so important for all of us. We’re so used to waiting for our turn to talk that it takes away from the purity of the serving others. I consciously try to just hear my friend, being that supportive and loving presence which would please the Lord.

    • Bryan Cook on March 24, 2017 at 08:39

      Thanks Kristi, I too do not listen without an agenda or without prejudgement…..even with my partner. This is a good lesson for me to learn and practise. In Serenity, Bryan

  8. Margaret Dungan on March 22, 2017 at 14:56

    I am very glad of this reminder both for listening to God and to my neighbor. In contrast I am very aware if I think the situation is being reversed!


  9. Verlinda on March 22, 2017 at 14:40

    As I grow spiritually, I seek to listen more and talk less. In my professional life as a human resources professional, I listen actively, and while that’s hard work at times, it’s very rewarding. Everyone needs someone to be an active listener–and while God is always present to listen, there are times when listening to a fellow human being is the closest we get to being God with skin on.

  10. Lucia S. on March 22, 2017 at 09:12

    This one really spoke to me today. My in-laws are moving in with us today. As my husband describes it, my father-in-law is an invalid by broken leg, Parkinson’s, stroke and dementia, and my mother-in-law is an invalid by choice. Needless to say, we’ve all been stressed anticipating this major life change, and last night my husband and I didn’t do a very good job of listening to the needs of one another, though we got to where we needed to be. I know that listening to my in-laws, my husband, and my own needs will be critical to the success of this situation, and continually pray for help to reflect God’s grace. I ask for the prayers of this community, as well. Thanks be to God.

  11. Maylanne Maybee on March 22, 2017 at 07:52

    I notice a lot when others talk too much and don’t listen but I don’t pay attention to the balance in myself. I THINK I listen as much as I talk but I’m not so sure. Will pay attention to that today.

  12. Roderic Brawn on March 22, 2017 at 06:16

    A change in the balance of listening and speaking is something I certainly need to change. When I listen I need to validate others by carefully listening.

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