Christian Teaching

The Art of Deep Listening, and Deep Seeing

By: Brian Harris

One fun thing about being part of a podcast is that it is only very loosely scripted and you find yourself saying things you don’t expect.

While sometimes they are in the “I shouldn’t have said that” category, I’ve also had really pleasing moments when I’ve thought, “gosh, that was good. Did I really say that?”

My recent Stirrers and Saints Podcast on “Mary – A Leader from the second chair” has one of those moments. Jen, Jon and I were talking about the importance of deep listening, and while totally agreeing with the value of deep listening, I found myself saying that we also need to cultivate the art of “deep seeing”.

If deep listeners hear more than the words someone says, but also pay attention to how they say it, what they don’t say, how often they say it, and the context in which they say it, what’s involved in deep seeing?

While deep listening is an act of hearing what the other is saying, deep seeing involves noticing the other well. It’s a shift in focus – a shift from what the other says, to what I see in the other, regardless of if they are saying anything or not.

Look Closely

Now while our culture considers it rude to sit and stare at someone, at times that is exactly what we should do. We should look until we see. Notice the lines on the face of another. Why are they there? Is their posture a little hunched and defensive – why? How are they dressed? What do their clothes say about them? Do they look a little invisible or are they boldly present? What’s the story behind todays story?

A while ago I was with someone who holds a very modest post, but has an enormous intellect, a staggering general knowledge, and is one of the most capable people I have come across. I tried to understand the mismatch between all that ability and what his job requires him to do. And slowly I saw it more clearly. The collapse after flying too high, trying too hard and then failing in an unsympathetic public space. So much safer to aim for little after all that humiliation. I tried to see what it would take to build him up again, and restore a little of that shattered confidence. Which doors would it be wise to point him towards, which would it be better to leave shut?

Now some may say, “Why ask questions like that? That’s not for you to say. It’s for him to decide.” And fair enough. But when you see someone deeply you sometimes see that they will never try without some gentle nudging, affirmation and generous encouragement.

Interestingly enough the man who triggered my thoughts got me thinking about a Bible character – Moses. Destined for greatness, he has a spectacular early failure – killing an abusive Egyptian assuming that the Hebrew people will be delighted with him, and follow his lead and rise up against their oppressors. Instead they turn on him and he spends the next 40 years tending sheep in the desert. From hero to zero in one quick move. His self perception is radically changed. He no longer sees himself as a leader. He resigns himself to his lot, and appears to find some calm and satisfaction leading sheep in the middle of no where. For all that, I imagine he must have often woken in the night and asked himself, “So what was that all about?” Talk about radical underachievement. Rescued from drowning as a baby, and raised in the palace, was it really just to look after someone else’s flock?

God Sees us Deeply

God sees deeply… and sees so much more in Moses. After 40 years, he interrupts Moses’ solitude and speaks to him through a burning bush. Exodus 3-4 tells the story. Moses cannot understand what God sees in him. He pushes back on God, saying he could never accept the mission to rescue the Hebrews. He gives a five fold objection:

  1. Who am I? I don’t have the strength to do this (Ex 3:11)
  2. Who are you? God I don’t even know your name (Ex 3:13)
  3. Why would anyone listen to me? I have no special power (Ex 4:1)
  4. What about my flaws? I can’t even speak clearly (Ex 4:10)
  5. Why not someone else? I really don’t want to do this (Ex 4:13)

Talk about being a reluctant leader! Moses personifies the category. But God sees something in Moses that Moses is unable to see. And God’s persistence wins the day.

Jesus also had an astonishing way of seeing things in people that they couldn’t.

He renames fickle, “bold one day, absent the next” Simon, as Peter – a rock – one who would be fully dependable. That’s deep seeing. It’s seeing beyond all the surface layers of fear and instability.

While chatting to a woman at a well, Jesus sees beyond her dubious moral stature to one who was a genuine seeker after God. He entrusts her with an astonishing revelation. He tells her that he is the promised Messiah (John 4:25-26). Why tell that to someone married 5 times, and now living with someone else? Hardly a reliable person. But Jesus sees something deeper in her.

Or think about the time when Jesus asked Zacchaeus, who collected tax on behalf of Israel’s Roman oppressors, if he can have a meal at his home. Zacchaeus is never the same again and morphs from a despised Roman colluder to a generous benefactor of the people. Zacchaeus desperately needed to have someone see him differently. He would never have managed the change on his own. Jesus is the one who spots that there is much more to Zacchaeus than what initially seems to define him.

People change when they are seen deeply. But it takes someone to see them. It’s deep seeing because it looks beyond the surface level irritants – and sometimes they are a lot more than irritants. They can be screamingly serious failures – but when we see the other well, new options open.

In Matt 13:16 Jesus says we are blessed if we have eyes that see and ears that hear. I imagine you have often heard that it is important to listen deeply. This week, why not ask if there is someone you should see deeply. It’s possible that that someone might even be you.


Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.

About the Author: Brian is a speaker, teacher, leader, writer, author and respected theologian who is founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.

Feature image: Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Other Articles You May Like

Lifestyle

Men’s Health Week Warning: “50 Deaths Per Day”

By: Mike Crooks Men’s Health Week, which celebrates its 30th...

June 15, 2024
Lifestyle

The ‘Look Yourself in the Mirror’ Test

By: Brian Harris I don’t know what your relationship with...

June 14, 2024
Parenting

7 Tips for Breaking the Parenting Pressure Cooker

By: Jennifer ChuImagine Lisa and Mark, parents of two young...

June 14, 2024
Faith

When Your Footy Team is Awful

By: Andrew Laird My footy team is having an absolutely awful...

June 13, 2024