What I Heard When I Began to Listen

question-markI will not forget these stories.  

I was a young minister.  I began preaching for a small church in North Alabama. In this community there were many, many churches. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve in this congregation.  I preached each week.  I taught Bible classes.  I  began to meet with people and learn to listen to their stories.

I spent a lot of time listening.  Sometimes it might be a conversation that took place on the parking lot after church. Or, it might a conversation that took place over a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop.  I met with some at lunch, some in my office and others in their homes.  I learned to listen. In fact, I learned that many people longed to have someone really listen to their story.

What I heard:

Many men and women are deeply wounded.  So often those wounds came through their own families of origin. Perhaps they had a domineering father who was heavy handed with his wife and children.  Sometimes a mother refused to draw near to her children emotionally.  With other people, these wounds seemed to focus adults who portrayed a commitment to the Lord (on Sunday’s and Wednesday evenings) while living a very different lifestyle during the week.  One person told me of a father, had several “emotional affairs” with women, which seem to be one of the family secrets.  At the same time, he was heavily involved in the life of their church.  The children (adults now) have been deeply wounded by this behavior.

Many men and women bear lingering guilt from their own sins.  I heard from people who wondered if there was anyone else like them in the congregation.  Sexual sin, drug use, drunkenness, stealing from work, abandoning one’s wife and children, etc.  Many people wondered if they will not be forever tainted by what they have done.  Others attended Sunday morning assemblies and concluded that others just didn’t seem to have any problems.

Many men and women wonder if there really is any hope for someone like themselves.  Many of us might be amazed if we knew the stories of people who are in churches with them each Sunday. I remember the beautiful young woman who told my wife and me that she was called “lard bucket” (as a child) by her father because of her weight issues.  One mother raised her children to deceive their father, telling them to not tell him what she bought at the store.  Some grew up with families that were a mess and they, as children, spent their childhood and emotional reserves trying to keep their home together.

What is the result of this?

Some grow up not knowing what to do with the baggage from homes that may have been very dysfunctional.  Some become angry.  Others distance themselves from most everyone.  (One man in a church once told me, “No one knows me.”  He had been a part of that church for years.   Sometimes these people will create an external self which appears Christian, looks right externally, and seems to be doing well while they feel almost hollow inside.   They feel no real joy or passion for Jesus, for life, or most anything else.

As I listened, I came to a few conclusions:

  1. Many people long for someone to listen, really listen, to their story.
  2. Many people longed to be loved but don’t believe this could possibly happen if other people really knew their story.
  3. Many people need to know that emotional healing, forgiveness is possible through Jesus.
  4. Many, many of us really need to know how the Gospel of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection impacts us in practical ways.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,  (I Peter 1:3-4)

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