Today is the national day of listening.

That’s what StoryCorps, in cooperation with NPR, has decided. They are inviting people to set aside an hour today to interview someone that isn’t often asked for their story. They want to capture as many stories, as many voices, as they can. They want to hear from people who don’t often speak, who live out of the public eye. (Here is the national day of listening information.)

I love the idea, but I started to laugh. I thought, “if everyone is listening, who is going to talk?” And then I realized that this is a day addressed to those of us who always talk. It probably should be a doubly-named day, called both, “national day of shut up and let someone else talk already why don’t you.” and “national day of please, you, in the back, arranging the chairs, would you tell us a story? Please?”

Some of us are gifted at filling silences with words, at finding white space and coloring it in, at having the answer for everyone. Some of us aren’t. Some of us step backward when someone asks, “everyone who wants to speak step forward.”

A delightful thing about blogging is that it provides a relatively safe place for some of those quiet voices to find their space to speak. There aren’t deadlines. There are opportunities to erase, to draft, to wrestle, to test before leaping.

Blogging provides a place for the person in the back, arranging the chairs, to tell a story. And the only way that anyone will know is if someone points them out. But at least there is a story.

I mentioned yesterday that one of the things I was thankful for this year is watching my wife and our children grow in their understanding of how God built them. One piece of that growth over the past couple months has been watching Nancy move into this space.

Some of you have read her posts in my Wednesday morning space at GNMParents. A couple of weeks ago, she talked about the letting go that moms have to do:

A friend and I have been talking recently about letting go of our babies. They’re no longer babies, but they are the youngest of our children. Her’s is a boy, mine a girl. Both 17. Both high school seniors.

Each of us has older children. She has several. All graduated from college. One married and a grandchild on the way. I have one older son. Still living at home while going to college. Single but talking about marriage.

Both of us are saying goodbye. Goodbye to high school plays and musicals and concerts and football games. Goodbye to the things that have kept us young–or aged us greatly. (You can read the rest here, please.)

And, before she started guest writing, she started her own blog, “The Hopeful Gardener.”

Here’s an excerpt from the middle of her Thanksgiving post:

We haven’t been able to attend the Santa lighting for the past 8 years, so it was with excited anticipation that we went tonight. As we stood waiting, I sensed the same feeling of anticipation throughout the crowd. There were smiles and laughter. People greeting each other and talking about how great the weather was. And wishing each other a blessed Thanksgiving.

It was almost as though, for just a couple of hours, the challenges and concerns of daily life were suspended. The war in Iraq was forgotten, the failing economy didn’t matter, the anxiety over family gatherings could wait. And everyone could experience a little bit of hope.

For just a couple of hours. (You can read the whole post here, please.)

Nancy and I write at computers in the same home office, just five feet apart. She is a far more deliberate writer than I am, perhaps because she is a far less encouraged writer than I am. I am the one that gets the encouragement, the celebration, the support for “having the right words.” What few people know is how often her insights, her perspective, her understanding shapes my right words. (Not, for those concerned about pastoral counseling, that I come home after ever conversation and say, “Wow, you wouldn’t believe the stupid thing I just heard.” I don’t think that anyway, and there are things I protect her and you from.) But Nancy has a precision of understanding needs and hurt and people that–more often than she knows or I acknowledge–guides me.

And now, this reflective voice, this voice that is evident when you listen rather than when you pressure, this reflective voice is finding a place to talk.

This is a long post. Thank you for taking the time to listen. But use it as an incentive today, if you are me, to celebrate “national day of shut up and let someone else talk already why don’t you.” by pointing to someone else. And if you are Nancy, please celebrate “”national day of please, you, in the back, arranging the chairs, would you tell us a story? please?”


My advent ebook is now available as a FREE downloadable pdf, advent2008, (Right click on the link to the left and save the file to your computer). Or leave me a comment and I can email it to you. It’s also a digital book on yudu.


6 responses to “listening

  1. Christopher Bowser

    Well I guess I’m one of those people Jon Swanson is talking about. You know, in the back, arranging chairs (see Jon’s blog: You’ll rarely hear me. Not because I have nothing to say but because to me, what you have to say is more important to me than what I want to say. Most of the time. But not today.

    You see Jon has re-named national listening day to “national day of shut up and let someone else talk already why don’t you.” and “national day of please, you, in the back, arranging the chairs, would you tell us a story? Please?” day. By nature, I am a behind the scenes person. I don’t like being in the spotlight but sometimes, we have to step out and speak up. Because God has wired me as a behind the scenes person and I am willing to accept that and to allow Him to use me just the way I am, He has truly blessed me way beyond what may appear outwardly at a casual glance. I am a deacon at Jon’s church. I get to help people who struggle. People who struggle financially. People who struggle spiritually. (Sometimes it’s hard to be “spiritual” when you’re hungry or cold or hurt).

    As the holidays approach, we as deacons (and Pastors) are often asked if we know of any families in need who could use some help (financial, food etc) during the holiday season. Of course we do. We are so glad you asked and that you are thinking of others. But please don’t ask me for their names. I understand that being able to put faces to your giving is a tremendous faith builder and incentive. But what if you were struggling? Would you want me to give others your name? Perhaps you would not even ask for help because you are afraid that someone else might know and look upon you in a less than favorable manner. What is more important: You feeling good about doing something nice for the Smith family? Or helping someone who really needs it without regard for yourself at all? That’s exactly what Jesus did. Trust Him when He says that you will be rewarded as no good deed escapes his watchful gaze. If you see someone hurting help them, pray with them. If you want to give but don’t see any immediate needs around you, give to an organization that knows who and how to help (your church, your deacons, a local rescue mission, the Salvation Army or even a neighbor). Give because He gave. Give because you love. Watch what happens next. You can’t outgive God. I know, I’ve been on both ends of this issue and I do know the names (and I’m not telling).

    Thank you for thinking of others.

  2. yep, Chris, you do a great job with the chairs. But you also do a great job
    explaining how to help.

    As you just did here.

    Thank you.

  3. Pingback: SOB Business Cafe - Liz Strauss at Successful Blog - Thinking, writing, business ideas . . . You’re only a stranger once.

  4. nice. but it sure is long for a post about listening …

  5. ah, but if it helps other voices be heard, i’m willing to commit that irony.

  6. Hi Jon,

    Thank you so much for spreading the word about the National Day of Listening! Support like this means so much to StoryCorps.

    After the overwhelming response to the National Day of Listening, we are hoping to pass on a new holiday idea: For everyone who did an interview surrounding the National Day of Listening (or are thinking about recording a loved one), making a copy of it and pairing it with a paperback copy of our book, “Listening is an Act of Love,” provides a meaningful touch to the holiday season, and gives that special someone even more incredible stories to read!

    One of the stories from our book, about what a hospital chaplain discovered as she blessed the hands of her coworkers, was broadcast this morning. You can listen at: The book as well as more DIY recording tips can be linked to at

    Thanks again and best wishes for the New Year!