The Listeners

The poet Seneca was a contemporary of Saint Paul who lived from 4BC — to 65AD. He was a philosopher, orator, and playwright. This is what he wrote.

For who listens to us in all the world,
whether he be friend or teacher,
brother or father or mother,
sister or neighbor,
son or ruler or servant?
Does he listen,
our advocate,
or our husbands or wives,
those who are dearest to us?
Do the stars listen,
when we turn despairingly from man,
or the great winds,
or the seas or the mountains?

To whom can any man say — Here I am!
Behold me in my nakedness,
my wounds, my secret grief,
my despair, my betrayal, my pain,
my tongue which cannot express my sorrow,
my terror, my abandonment.

Listen to me for a day — an hour! — a moment!
lest I expire in my terrible wilderness,
my lonely silence!

O God, is there no one to listen?
Is there no one to listen? you ask.
Ah yes
there is one who listens,
who will always listen.
Hasten to him, my friend!
He waits on the hill for you.
For you, alone.


While I am not sure who he meant was waiting on the hill to listen, with his words, Seneca captured the timeless human longing to be heard. I read a book this weekend called The Listener by Taylor Caldwell that addressed this subject.

There is a reason that psychiatrists, analysts–counselors of every stripe–have a thriving field. At bottom, they offer the service of listening. Hurting people are willing to pay someone to sit and listen to them share all that Seneca so aptly described. In our crazed world, paying someone to sit and listen is often the only way to gain an ear.

Some are blessed with a listener in their life. I have someone like this who sits and listens, non-judgmentally. It is a healing thing to open up and share your heart without fear that someone will no longer love/like you if you tell them your thoughts. So many times, I have found myself strengthened for having been heard. I have found faulty thinking clarified without the listener ever saying a word. Even if no solutions are proffered by the listener, just having an ear for a few minutes is a gift. It reminds me of the lines in the song, You Raise Me Up.

When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.

It takes trust in the listener to open up. If you trust the wrong person, what is in your heart can be “twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,” as Kipling put it. But when you find a trustworthy person, it is one of life’s precious gifts.

To have the trust of someone who needs to unburden is also a gift. It is so easy to betray a confidence, even without intending to. Trust is easily shattered, and difficult, if not impossible, to restore. Consider that the other party is handing over the pearls of their heart, and guard them well.

Being a good listener does not come easily to many. My husband is a wonderful conversationalist because he listens and asks questions. People like talking with him because he is genuinely interested in what is being said. Some, however, don’t return the favor. One of my pet peeves is when people’s eyes are roaming a room while you’re talking with them. They’re scoping out the next social contacts while you’re trying to say something. I usually give up when a conversation gets to that point. Our body language tells others exactly how interested we are in them.

Human souls get lost in the digital noise and chronic busyness of our culture. When we take the time to listen, really listen, to someone else, we show them that they matter, that their thoughts are important also. I think of children, especially, who need such listening today more than ever.

Our merciful God listens to us, God, the ultimate Listener. Thankfully, He knows the words of our hearts even when we can’t frame the words. When we have nobody else who can or will listen to our pain, God will, and sometimes, He alone can do something about what we suffer.

7 thoughts on “The Listeners

  1. Christina says:

    Well put Ingrid.
    Sometimes I seem to have a problem with listening( I want to “fix” things).

    I am learning and am trying to be a good listener. I think Naomi is teaching me. She is at that age where she wants to be heard but first she gets my attention, then she waits and thinks about what she wants to say and if anyone interrupts she gets frustrated. It is learning patience and even waiting ones turn to speak and not to interrupt others.

  2. Stacey says:

    I love this post because I had had times in my life when I needed a listener and now I find that I can serve others by being one. At our church I have formed relationships with some of the older people there. They need a listening ear especially as many of the frail in our church don’t have anyone to talk with. A pastor can be so busy and church leaders. This is a way that we as the lay Christians can serve others. I visit several of our older people every month and talk and mainly listen. Getting older isn’t easy but it is easier when you have someone in your life who cares about you.

  3. Lisa Green Kentala says:

    Ingrid I agree with you about people whose eyes start roaming around the room during a conversation. I’ve noticed they are usually people who are VERY social and who get bored easily. They need a constant flow of different people in their lives, so I don’t take it personally. In fact with certain people I’ve come to expect it – they can only interact with one person for a certain length of time and then it’s onto the next, and the next…..

  4. Sam says:

    Great thoughts. There is actually a national ministry, working through local churches, that is dedicated to nothing but listening. It’s called BeFrienders, and it trains lay people to heal and help through non-judgmental listening, caring, and asking questions.

    Here are the guiding principles of the ministry:

    Active listening
    There is a healing power in telling one’s story. BeFrienders know the value of active listening skills, which are a critical component of training. BeFrienders listen with compassion.

    Nonjudgmental presence
    BeFrienders understand the importance of hearing another’s story from that person’s perspective. Respect and empathy allow them to listen and respond without judgment. BeFrienders accept people as they are.

    Caring, not curing
    BeFrienders are a living reminder of God’s love. As companions, BeFrienders give those they befriend the chance to recognize, value, and use their own God-given, Spirit-led wisdom. BeFrienders respect another’s spiritual journey.

    God is present
    BeFrienders are aware that they are in God’s presence when befriending someone and that the time shared is a blessing to both people in the relationship. BeFrienders embody the caring presence of God.

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