In a culture where Facebook friends, likes & shares are counted; where Instagram followers & likes are sought; where Twitter followers & retweets are craved; where in a society of ‘social media’ which is meant to connect us more, we find levels of depression, anxiety and loneliness at an all time high.
For more than two years I have been working in partnership with a local high school running a weekly listening service in the school. Listening services are space to share what is on your mind. I have adapted the listening service model used locally in the Morecambe Bay area with the NHS GP practices to be appropriate within a school environment. The school listening service is an opportunity for students to share their joys and their hardships, it’s a place to laugh and cry. Over the last year I have seen over 45 students for at least one 25 minute appointment. The vast majority are referred from school case workers, heads of year or senior management in the school with few self referrals via the former.
Today as I drove home after the Listening Service I started to think about how this incredible opportunity came to be. I remember the meeting with a Deputy Head who was new to the school. The meeting was just a chance to get to know her and say what we are about as a church but also with the other organisations we partner with like NISCU. We chatted about what we were currently doing in the school which to be honest wasn’t working all that well. As I sat in that meeting I was prompted to be available and ask the question, “If I could give you a morning a week, what would you want me to do?” Without needing any time to think, the Deputy Head responded, “Listen – we haven’t got enough time to listen. The students have all sorts happening in their lives and they need someone to just listen.” Within 2 weeks the listening service was up and running.
One of the major lessons I have learnt is the power of listening. For those who know me you know I love to talk. But the power of listening, the significance of offering time and space to someone, to intentionally give them a voice is something I’ve seen such value in over the last few years. For many students, the listening service has become one of the highlights of their week, and not just because they are out of lessons for 25 minutes and get sweets! But for some it has been the only time of the week where someone has asked “How are you?” and not as a small talk conversation starter but giving them time and space to be honest and share what is happening in their life, whether serious or chatting about their interests has been significant.
“Poor listening diminishes another person, while good listening invites them to exist and matter.” David Mathis – Desiring God.
I have seen many students grow in confidence as they have been able voice whatever it may be they are carrying. One girl I remember had such high levels of anxiety she wouldn’t walk to school, wouldn’t enter a shop, wouldn’t socialise. From a girl who was so nervous when she first came to see me to picking her little brother up from school and getting the train to town to meet her dad, her parting comment was “When I first came to see you I struggled with anxiety, now I don’t.” I don’t write this to boast. I write this because I am one who is so often quick to speak. But I have learnt as Bonhoeffer said that ““listening can be a greater service than speaking.” In seeing someone find freedom from anxiety, in seeing students perspectives change on school or home. Not because I said loads of wise words but because I was intentionally available and listened.
“Listening can be a greater service than speaking.” Bonhoeffer
Now this shouldn’t be a surprise and is nothing new, James 1 v 19 tell us to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Good listening is a beautiful expression of the mindset of Christ. (Philippians 2:5) It flows from a place of humility. A humble heart that considers others more significant than ourselves. (Philippians 2:3). Bonhoeffer in his wisdom said we need to avoid ““a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say.” Good listening cares and looks for the interests of others not to ones own interests. (Philippians 2:4). Good listening is patient and kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4).
But for me this has to be more than a morning a week in a local high school. I need to be more intentional to listen well in all my relationships, with my wife, my son, my family, my friends, those in church & those in my community. My prayer is that others will know the true value they have to God and to me in the way that I listen well.