The Intimacy of Listening

As I began thinking through our word LISTEN, I realized that listening is an art form, one that might be going out of style, yet vital for intimacy and relationship building. As I jotted down the attributes of a good listener, a friend came to mind. If you are lucky, you have a great listener like this in your life too.

My friend is always the first to ask “How are you, …really?” And then pauses. She understands that in the pause, she’s allowing God’s time; space for her and you to receive a nudge to share what is needed.  She is good at asking questions and is not satisfied with surface responses, she gently probes deeper to get to the root cause. And it’s typically at the end of the conversation, as you are parting ways when you realize she hasn’t said much about herself at all.

She is thoughtful in remembering your last conversation, even if a month has gone by. And she rarely forgets a date – a birthday, an important interview, an unexpected, yet frightening doctor appointment. Plus, she is typically the first to inquire about its outcome.

With her, you feel heard.

Regardless of coming or going, there is always a big, loving hug. She is the last to release you.

She desires one-on-one time with you and creates space even when calendars feel full.

She’ll let you cry freely: snotty nose, mascara running, ugly crying that empties the hurt, before reaching out, rubbing a shoulder, or squeezing a hand of encouragement.

She brings joy. She keeps you accountable to your new goals and happily restarts when you mess up. She keeps your problems confidential, your secrets held in a vault and she stops gossip as it reaches her, and rallies others with kindness. She doesn’t tell you what to do, instead, she consistently points you to God for answers. She knows not everyone will see God the way she does, yet she continually points you to Him, hoping you catch a glimpse.

In writing these top-of-mind attributes of my friend, I realize the similarities of silence and grace that surround her and the Biblical role model of great friendship we see between Jesus and Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha.

We first meet Mary in her home, quietly sitting and listening at Jesus’ feet. In four short verses, we are told by Martha that Mary is ignoring all her responsibilities and obligations just to be near Him. Jesus rebukes her, saying “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42).  Why is this a better choice? Mary was eager to learn from Christ, she desired to listen to the Word of God, from the Word Himself (John 1). Friends, can you even imagine? Mary lounged at His feet, and in the next reference, fell to His feet, because she understood who He is. She understood the importance of spending time in the presence of the Lord. And she trusted Him.

This dinner party was not likely their first-time meeting. We learn in the Gospel of John (John 11) that Jesus had a close relationship with all three siblings, implying they probably knew each other for many years, maybe since childhood. Outside of the Disciples, they are probably Jesus’ first peers who understood Him as Messiah. 

So, it makes sense when Lazarus isn’t well, the sisters would send word to Jesus “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (v3). This is a normal request. We would all call our closest friends in times of trouble. However, it is Jesus’ reaction of waiting until after Lazarus dies to go visit, that teaches us how deeply He loves them. Jesus uses this opportunity to show the gathered mourners, the Disciples, the sisters, and us, the power He has over death and their unbelief. Which is where we meet Mary for the second time. She is overtaken by grief and falls to Jesus’ feet. Just like my friend, Jesus doesn’t tell her to stop crying, instead Jesus wept (v35). It’s in this pause that Jesus shows empathy, and the intimacy of their friendship grows. 

Our final encounter with Mary is during an act of worship to Jesus as she anoints Him with expensive perfume and wipes His feet with her hair (John 12:1-3). Mary is expressing humility, love, and gratitude for the return of her brother. This intimate moment is in the presence of family and the disciples. Community celebrations and remembrances are important. 

“…She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Matthew 26:10-13.

There are only a few recorded words spoken by Mary, yet Jesus’ tribute above creates Mary’s legacy for generations to know her and be inspired by her.  I believe we all desire this intimacy, so I challenge you, in the current day to sit at the feet of Jesus: by prioritizing time with God, reading His word, worshiping Him, and sharing Him with your friends.

With Jesus, you feel heard. 

With Jesus, you are seen.

With Jesus, you are loved!

Please pray with me –

Lord, thank You for giving us examples of how to be good listeners and the desire to know each other better. Please bless us, Your sons and daughter,s with intimate friendships like Jesus had with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Please nudge us when we need to be better listeners (or maybe when we need to trust others and share our burdens). Thank You for pressing into our unbelief, so that we can walk closer to You. And from the bottom of my heart, Lord, thank You for Jesus resurrecting Lazarus (and others), so that we have a record and can rejoice of how on Easter Sunday and every day, You have VICTORY OVER DEATH. Amen.

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