The Power of Intentional Listening
Editor’s Note: Current missioner in formation, Hannah Hagarty reflects on a life-changing conversation she had while serving at Christ House in Washington, DC and the beauty that can unfold when we truly listen to our neighbors.
As a missioner in training, we are given the opportunity to go out into the community and practice what we are learning during our Formation sessions. Every Wednesday, I spend several hours at Christ House, a nonprofit organization that provides comprehensive and compassionate health care to sick persons suffering from homelessness in the District of Columbia. Christ House also assists by addressing critical issues to help break the cycle of homelessness.
My role on Wednesdays is to accompany these men, build relationships, learn about them, and be another form of support during their journey back to good health. This experience has been life-changing for me. Coming from a small town in Iowa, I grew up with minimal exposure to people experiencing homelessness. I was nervous to start this ministry, because I didn’t know what to expect.
My first day, I met one of the men living at Christ House named Mr. P. Mr. P and I started chatting on the way to the library. He was quiet and not very talkative. I helped him find some books on Greek mythology and we walked back to Christ House together not saying much. After lunch, I went back up to the office where my stuff was, and got ready to leave. Mr. P stopped me and asked if he could show me some drawings. I put my stuff back on my desk and went to look at his art.
After we were done admiring his impressive work, it was quiet. Then, I started sharing about myself, about my family, my hometown, my friends–basically anything I could think of to say about myself. Then, I asked the simple question, “What do you want me to know about you?” Mr. P looked me right in the eyes as if no one had ever asked him that before. He then talked with me for two and a half hours. He told me his whole life story. The only reason the conversation came to an end was because he had to attend a meeting with his case manager. I will never forget the conversation I had with Mr. P that day.
Since my initial conversation with him, Mr. P and I have had many more talks, much shorter, but still intense, great conversations. I guess I use the word conversations lightly. In reality, he does the talking, and I do the listening. Mr. P just needs someone to listen to him. He thanks me every time we talk, even if it is just for three minutes, and he thanks me just for looking at him, listening, and genuinely caring about what he has to say. That is all it takes.
We are called to encounter Christ through our neighbors, as we, the people of God, are really one body made of many parts. “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40. This is what ministry of presence is about. Offering your presence and a listening ear can have such an incredible impact on someone. It can help them believe in their own dignity and feel God’s love.
Reflection Question: Who in your life just needs someone to listen?