In earlier devotionals, I have talked about working at a Lowe’s home improvement store before starting my work at the church. I had felt a call to ministry, specifically, music ministry, but God had not opened the door for a church position and I needed a job. I was grateful for the work at Lowe’s and I enjoyed it. I never woke up dreading going to the store. My position there was as a sales specialist in large appliances. When asked, I would say that “my current ministry is in large appliance sales.” This was only partially said in a joking manner as I believed God was working with me during that time at Lowe’s; it was a time of training for my future work in ministry.
One thing that God was teaching me was the importance of listening. I quickly discovered that in order to do my job and close a sale, I had to listen to the story a customer needed to tell. I admit that at first, this was a surprise. Sometimes the story was just about what had happened to their old refrigerator, dishwasher, or dryer. Sometimes it was a deeply personal story about a financial setback or a relationship.
Because my store served a large retirement community, for me the most powerful stories were usually told by older folks, most often women, who would say something like, “I need a new dishwasher, but I have never had to buy an appliance before. My husband always took care of this, but he died last December and this is the first time I have to purchase one by myself.” My heart would go out to these women and I would do all in my power to ensure that they felt comfortable with me and their purchase.
Part of my feeling for older customers was based on my own story about my widowed mother. She told me there was a particular Lowe’s store location in her area that provided outstanding customer service. They always greeted her in a friendly way, made her feel comfortable, and helped her find the product or service for which she was looking. After my mother shared her story with me, I began to approach each customer as though they were a member of my family. How would I want someone I loved to be treated? This became the metric for how I approached customers who came to my department. Thus, through deep listening, I discovered a touchpoint for developing a more empathetic heart for the people I met. The importance of listening reminds me of a passage from James 1:19 (NRSV):
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen,
slow to speak, slow to anger;
I believe God was teaching my heart to be ready for work in the ministry. I am so thankful for this time when God taught my heart to listen deeply, intentionally, and empathetically.
Holy God, You are always more ready to hear than we are to pray. Open our ears and our hearts to those around us who are broken and hurting. Help us to be your listening ears on earth. We pray this in all Your Holy Names, AMEN.
Grace & Peace,
- Ray Wheeler, Ph.D.