The Art of Listening

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It’s often been said that you can’t learn from speaking– only by listening. Listening is a valuable skill to have whether you’re talking with a friend, sitting in a classroom, or interacting with people at work. For me, it’s an essential part of my nursing career.

A couple days ago I got to work late after snoozing my alarm one too many times and then hitting traffic on my way to the hospital. At first I was tempted to rush through my patient care to be sure and get everything done in a timely manner. After getting reports on my patients, I walked into the first room.

“Good evening, my name’s Seth and I’m going to be your nurse tonight! How ya doing?” I grinned good-naturedly as I walked over to the patient’s bedside.

“I’m good! Did you know everything you learned in school is a lie?”

Everything? Well now. I’m still paying off student loans so that bit of news was definitely not what I wanted to hear right now! “I was not aware of that but I sure am appreciative of you pointing it out to me.” Sometimes I become sarcastic no matter how hard I try not to be. Especially today; I was in a hurry.

“It’s true. What was the first thing you saw when you started Kindergarten?”

“Well let me think for a minute. The couch. … My pajamas! … My mom?”

“Oh you were homeschooled.”

“Yep, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave the house,” I laughed as I pulled out my stethoscope.

“But you still had a globe,” she continued, “Did you know Satan invented that? The earth is flat.” I stopped right where I was. I’d heard these people existed, but I never thought I’d get to meet one in person. In my hospital even! Under my care no less!

“No way, is it really?” I gasped. “How do we keep from falling off?”

“There’s an ice wall around the entire planet,” she seemed so confident I had to admire her spirit.

“And what about the planes that have flown around the world?”

“They were flying in a big circle.”

“And Antarctica?” I questioned.

“It’s just the part of the ice wall the Masons want to tell us about.”

“Hold on, the Masons are keeping this secret from us? That’s infuriating!”

“Yep, they’re in cahoots with the devil. They’re the ones that funded NASA.”

“Right, because we never went to the moon.”

“Exactly! It was all a film production. You can even see a Coke bottle sitting on the moon in the unedited video clip of Neil Armstrong.”

“And Gus Grissom?”

“He and the others were about to expose the whole program so NASA eliminated them. Every single astronaut that died did so because they were going to expose the lie.” I was getting really excited. Sometimes I have dull patients who talk about nothing more than Pokemon Go, other times I have combative patients, or angry patients, or sad patients, but never before in my life did I have a patient who had so much life-changing information to share! I was riveted.

“Do you believe in God?” she continued.

“Yes ma’am I do!”

“Well in the Bible, it says He uses the earth as His footstool. Can you imagine God standing on a beach ball?” We both laughed heartily; for different reasons I’m guessing.

“And remember where God says the angels are holding back strife from the four corners of the earth? Where do you find corners on a globe?”

There are times when I enter into a lively conversation and like to throw a different perspective into the train of thought, but clearly today was not one of those days. Today was a listening only day. One assessment and 67 undiscovered truths later, I was ready to leave the room.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed talking to you, young man!” she stated emphatically as I walked out the door.

“I’ve enjoyed it too!” I wasn’t lying.

“Can you help me with one of my patients?” One of the other nurses met me in the hall. “Apparently she likes guys and she won’t do anything for me. I can’t get her to answer questions or take meds.” I walked in to the room. Immediately the elderly patient perked up.

“Well hello there young man! You look good tonight.”

“Mmmmm, yes ma’am, thanks for noticing! But tonight’s not about me, it’s about you. Let’s get you some meds here.”

“Oh of course,” she smiled. I sighed. Tonight was not going as planned. I didn’t have time for this! The nurse out in the hall caught my eye and mouthed a “thank you” mixed with “wow she listened to you” and “I’m so sorry you have to do this” before laughing at the awkwardly odd situation we were in. I laughed too.

I walked into my next patient’s room to continue my rounds. A relative was sitting on the seat next to the bed. “Good evening!” I said.

“Well you look chipper tonight,” she said, not taking her eyes off the cellphone in her hands. I told her all the reasons why I was “chipper” and was excited to be caring for them that evening. I was being completely honest.

“You a believer?” Same tone. Same nonchalance.

“Yes ma’am, I’m a Seventh-day Adventist.”

“No way!” Her face immediately lit up and she looked up from her phone. “Have you heard of David Asscherick?” And so began a long story of how her and her husband had been invited to an Adventist church in their hometown during an evangelistic series. When their family went through an extremely painful experience shortly after, the church rallied to support her with welcoming arms. “I’m not Adventist yet, but I go to the church and believe everything they teach so far,” she finished. “I figured you were an Adventist. I could tell when you walked in the door; I’m sure a lot of people tell you how vibrant you are.”

Throughout the night as I went into the room and cared for them, we talked about our faith and I shared my personal testimony with them.

Every night is different. I’m always meeting new people. Some make a huge impact on me while others I forget about a few weeks after they leave the floor. I’ve gotten to pray with patients, talk with patients, laugh with them and cry with them. Yes there are the bedpans I’ve got to empty, the blood I must clean up, the vomit, the sickness, the drudgery of meds and diets and lab sticks.

But at the end of the day, I realize once again why God called me to nursing. I schedule 5 minutes during my first rounds – stethoscope down, computer off, my full attention on the patient – to have a heart-to-heart with them. Personally, I think it’s even more important than the meds I’m administering because everyone needs to be heard, understood, and cared for.

James encourages us along these lines,”Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak…” (James 1:19) Once we truly learn to listen to God’s voice, He will teach us how to listen to those who need us most. Because it really doesn’t matter what you do, where you work, or how many people you talk with each day. If you truly listen to those around you, show them you care by being intentional with your time, and seek to make every interaction a positive witnessing experience, God can use you.



Seth Sutherland

–GYC attendee–