Our church’s administrative office was in high gear.
We were preparing for a very special guest and my boss, one of the pastors of the church, was busier than a one-armed paper hanger. Both of us ran around with last-minute tasks, making sure everything was set for our guest’s arrival.
Finally, the guest, Ray Hughes, arrived. Ray is a speaker, author, storyteller, singer and songwriter and travels throughout the U.S. and abroad. Ray is also one of the most down-to-earth people you’d ever meet.
You see, Ray grew up in the mountains of Appalachia. He is pure country and his homespun stories are mixed with humor, love and honesty. He was the first person in his family to graduate from college. There is nothing fancy or “city” about him.
And Ray is genius when it comes to connecting with people.
Our church was used to having guests and I was always instructed “not to bother them.” Before you jump to conclusions and think that’s harsh, there’s good reason. If you’ve ever worked within any type of religious organization that hosts “famous in certain circles” guests, you’ll immediately understand.
If you don’t, allow me to explain.
Fame is pretty much the same anywhere. What I mean is that once someone reaches a certain level of it, everyone comes out of the woodwork who either 1) wants to talk to him, 2) ask his opinion on something, 3) pitch their latest entrepreneurial idea, or 4) generally ask him to solve life’s biggest issue for them.
It can be exhausting.
So in an effort to protect our guests, we would hustle them behind a stage or in a separate room so they could mentally and spiritually prepare for their teaching time.
On this day, Ray came straight to the church, walked in and received a warm welcome from my boss. I was smiling because it’s always a beautiful thing to see a warm welcome (which is why I adore the intro to the film, “Love, Actually”).
And then the two started chattering away like two long-lost brothers.
Meanwhile, I started back to my office to attempt to finish a few things. But I couldn’t help but be drawn back to my boss’ office, where he continued to catch up with Ray. My boss had a good dose of “country boy” in him, so they both were pretty happy joking around with one another.
Then there was a slight break in the conversation where I took the opportunity to say something. I can’t remember what it was that I said, but it seemed important to me at the time.
Immediately, my boss dove in again with more conversation and I felt a bit awkward. I was just starting to think that I should have just stayed in my office when suddenly Ray said something that melted my heart.
“Go ahead,” he gently said as he looked at me. “I’m listening.”
I then talked with him briefly but at the same time was having almost a weird out-of-body experience. I realized at that moment how important it was to be seen. To be heard. To be understood.
And when someone who is “famous in certain circles” does it, it is especially powerful.
It is amazing what can happen when you give someone the gift of listening. To me, it is almost as powerful and empowering as the gift of touch.
You are recognizing a person. You are noticing their humanity, their beauty, and their own unique voice to the world.
Take a moment and remember a time when you were ignored.
It could have been at a company meeting. It could have been at a boutique shop where the women working the floor continued to gossip with one another instead of noticing you, the customer. Or maybe it was at a networking event where everyone else seemed at ease but you.
Remember how you felt?
Now think of a time when someone called you out from a crowd or beckoned you to join them in the conversation. Remember how a warm little fire spread inside of you, reassuring you that yes, you have something to contribute and that you’re worth recognition.
With those four simple words, Ray let me know that although he traveled throughout the country and overseas, he still looked at people as individuals. A wonderful exchange of authentic compassion, courtesy, and respect bloomed in those few minutes of conversation.
Just by saying four simple words.
Who in your life is asking for attention?
You may not be a well-known speaker or author, but someone wants your attention. I guarantee it.
Are you really listening to them?
If you do, you will be giving them an invaluable gift.
If you do this for your children, that gift is multiplied by the thousands.
Your life is busier than ever, I know. You’re likely expected to listen to a boss, co-workers, vendors, partners, clients, customers and prospects. You have to listen or you’ll pay the price with lost business.
So the last thing you probably want to do when you get home is listen again. To anyone.
But listening is a gift that actually can energize you if you look deep enough. Remember that the person who is trying to reach out to you also has been listening all day and now they yearn to have someone listen to them.
In the midst of listening, you may discover things you didn’t know. It may draw you closer to someone as you learn of their own struggles. And it deepens the intimacy you share with your loved one as the threads of love, compassion, loyalty, fidelity, strength, and courage weave themselves around both of you.
Take the time to listen. It is the gift everyone craves but rarely gets.
It is… the welcoming hug at an airport.