The Art of Listening Well – An Interview with Jon AyersWritten by admin on May 16, 2018 in - No Comments
Jon Ayers, who coordinates the Connect Team at Church at the Well and plays percussion on Sunday mornings, lives with his wife Jenn in Shelburne. Having grown up as practically an only child (his sister is nine years older), Jon takes pleasure in watching the “rich, fun, crazy dynamic” between his children, Amelia (6) and Billy (almost 2), who love to “crack each other up.” When he’s not working, you can find him hiking, mountain biking, cross country skiing, strumming a guitar, or listening to improvisational jazz (though he also has a soft spot for sea shanties—ask him about it!). Jon has a passion for listening, and he has long dreamed of opening his own counseling practice. This year, that dream has come true. I recently met up with him at his new office to ask him a few questions about how he chose this path and why, in our busy world, listening is so important.
For a number of years, you worked for an outdoors ministry at UVM called Lifelines. What is Lifelines, and what did you enjoy about that work?
Lifelines is a campus ministry that offers experiential learning in the context of the outdoors. Lessons stick when they’re learned experientially. Through canoeing, hiking, snowshoeing, and other outdoor trips, we were helping UVM students of all backgrounds with spiritual formation. Jesus was constantly outside and was always using nature to teach lessons. Here’s a fig tree… Here’s a vine…He used the wind and the waves to create experiences and draw out principles.
What is something you learned from your work with Lifelines?
I learned that relationships are formed through shared experiences. Without shared experiences, relationships can remain surfacy, but through shared experiences, deep abiding relationships are formed. I also learned that I do not love raft guiding in spring. Cold bones!
When did you realize you wanted to become a counselor?
When Jenn and I were working with Lifelines, we would have debriefing session with the students, spiraling principles out to their personal and spiritual lives. With permission, group members were able to share true things about each other—good and bad—while feeling loved and accepted at the same time. The elements at work in those groups were mainly what I would call grace and truth. People really grew. I eventually understood that this is what happens in a lot of group counseling. I wanted to do more of that.
It seems that listening is becoming a lost art in our fast-paced, consumer-oriented culture. In your opinion, what is the value of listening?
The value of listening, I think, is experiencing life together. As a Christian, I also see listening as expressing the heart of God. He’s the God who is present: Emmanuel, God with us. And today, more than ever, listening well to people conveys real presence. It’s pithy but true: People don’t care what you know until they know that you care.
I’m curious about listening as a way of expressing God’s love. Can you tell me more?
Listening well allows us to listen in on what God is already doing, and also how the fall has affected people. The Gospel meets all of us in broad ways, but also in specific ways. God wants to be a shelter to someone who is insecure, a fortress to someone on the run, a father to someone without a father. We won’t hear those specifics if we don’t listen.
What do you think are the main obstacles to listening?
Worries, preoccupation with self-image or validation, and busyness—for most of us, these are the enemies of listening. The gospel speaks to each one of these things. If we know that we are loved not because of our performance but because of Christ’s on our behalf, if we know that we’re seen as holy in God’s sight, we don’t have to be so preoccupied with ourselves. We also won’t be so worried about all the things that are keeping us busy.
In your opinion, how does one learn to listen well?
It starts with understanding that the gospel frees us up to listen. A good place to listen from is both confidence and humility: the confidence of knowing that our biggest need is met (relationship with God), and the humility of knowing that that’s not from us—we didn’t earn it.
What about some practical tips for learning to listen well?
Practically speaking, we can learn to listen well by asking God to put people in our path who need to be listened to, reflecting back to them what we hear them say, giving them permission to correct us, and even soliciting feedback about whether they felt heard.
I just have one more question: What is it that you like about sea shanties?
I sit in a cozy leather chair all day for my job, so I think I romanticize songs about working with your hands and beating back the elements. There’s something earnest and honest about these cautionary tales of big burley guys who make silly mistakes. Plus, sea shanties are easy to play on guitar!
If you’d like to connect with Jon to learn more about his counseling practice, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 802-891-4226.
Interview conducted by Abigail Carroll