MasksShe would probably protest. But I would still do it. I would still include her in my list of heroes. At the peak of her career she decided that it was time to get out. Her decision must have looked like career suicide to some. But she took her cues from within. And from above.

The first thing she did in her ‘new life’ was to seek out friends, people she always wanted to talk with, but never had the time. She was surprised by what she heard. Overwhelmed at times. Stories of immense pain and complexity began to surface.

She was curious as to why her friends had never told her any of these stories before. Some had been carrying immense burdens for some time. They said they had never told her before because she never looked as though she had had the time to listen.

A few had had bad experiences opening up to Christians. Stories of immense pain and complexity had been met with simplistic advice and judgemental responses. No wonder study after study has shown that when Christians confront complex problems, the last people they turn to for help are their pastors and cell group members. They are more inclined to turn to friends at work whom they feel would understand.

It makes me wonder what stories lie beneath the smiling faces we see at work. And in church.

In the August 2002 issue of the Utne Reader, Margaret J. Wheatley writes:

“…many people are longing to converse again. We are hungry for a chance to talk. People want to tell their stories…”

Unfortunately, as Wheatley observes:

“…as a culture we’re losing the capacity to listen. We’re too busy. We’re too certain of our own views. We just keep rushing past each other.”

I don’t think Wheatley overstates her case. Which makes all sorts of warning bells go off in my spirit.

Because the one thing wrong in God’s primal perfect creation was the fact that the first human being was alone(Genesis 2:18). Adam had no one to tell his stories too. He had no stories to listen to. And this was not good. (Apparently the companionship of God does not take the place of human companionship.)

The irony is that we now live in a world where technology allows us to connect in any number of ways. But we are more lonely than ever.

We can do something about it. If we really want to. The solution is simple. And completely counter cultural. It means we see the sheer importance of sharing stories. It means that we understand that this is done one soul at a time. One conversation at a time. It means that there will be key times with people when we completely ignore the clock. It means we have to relearn a vital life skill – listening with our hearts.

The apostle James reminds us that a healthy church is one where people confess their sins to one another and pray for one another(James 5:16). That presupposes a community where people lovingly listen to each other. The failure to do so means we remain sick communities with little to offer each other. And the world.

Which is why my friend remains a hero in my eyes. We were having dinner a few evenings ago. She shared that sometimes she wasn’t sure what she should say when friends and family ask her what she was doing with her life.

I told her she was doing something utterly crucial. She was a listener. Unfortunately it would be very difficult for her to explain her present vocation to people.

Like I said. She is a hero.