Continuing our daily Advent reflection series, Nonprofit Servant Leadership Associate Sarah Hoffeditz writes about how an individual encounter challenged her to listen to others more deeply.

I’m a bad listener. Anyone who knows me knows how much I like to talk. I often spend most of my non-talking time in a conversation thinking about what I’m going to say next. Clearly, I need to work on this.

For about nine months, I’ve been volunteering with an art therapy program on Wednesday afternoons at Miriam’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen in downtown DC. I’ve changed in many ways since starting this experience, including improving my listening skills. One Miriam’s Kitchen guest in particular has helped me grow in this area.

“Do you have a minute?” Each week for the past few months, Jack* has asked this question. Since I’ve been learning to say “yes” to more things that God puts into my path, I make sure to set aside time to chat with Jack every week.

Sarah and friend at Miriam’s Kitchen

Sometimes the things Jack says don’t make much sense. The connections between topics can be a bit “off.” At least on the surface. But if I take the time to listen to what he is saying underneath the words, I begin to hear the words of his soul.

Jack tells me about the hardships of being a homeless African immigrant who sleeps in a park most nights. About the paradox of having such a significant homeless population in one of the most important cities in the country. About people being afraid of him because of the way he looks and his situation in life, despite his gentle soul.

We talk about the moral dilemmas he experiences, such as reporting wrongdoing and confronting those who take part in it. About religion and the different paths to God that people choose.

I don’t say much in these conversations with him, usually just affirmations or an occasional question. Jack doesn’t need me to say much. What he wants is validation of his thoughts and beliefs, someone to recognize his humanity and dignity.

Jack has taught me a lot about the reality of life as a homeless person. He’s reminded me of the importance of seeing a person for what’s inside and not by their appearance or situation in life. I still have a long way to go to be considered a “good” listener, but I’m on my way, because Jack has shown me the beauty of really listening to people, listening not just to their words but to their hearts as well.

*Name has been changed.

Coming up tomorrow: “Franciscan Friendship” by Mary Mortenson!

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