Book reviews, Uncategorized

On Adam McHugh’s The Listening Life

I read Adam McHugh’s first book, Introverts in the Church, shortly after it was published in 2009. I had known for a long time that I was an introvert, but I hadn’t taken a direct look at the challenges and gifts that come along with this particular aspect who I am. I found the book to be an affirming and balanced look at the role personality types play in our quest to embrace our unique, God-given identities.

Just to expand on that “balanced” description a bit. I am a fascinated fan of the MyersBriggs Indicator and other such theories of psychological type. But I also believe that personalities are too complex and nuanced to be too swiftly or tidily pinned down. So even as I nodded along (and nearly said aloud “that’s me!”) to the descriptions of introvert preferences and behaviours, I also deeply appreciated Adam McHugh’s attention to the introverted and extroverted elements inside us all. This approach makes his book a relevant, important, and appealing read for people of all types (which is why I find myself recommending it to a wide variety of friends to this day).

Anyway, I kept up with Adam through his blog and social media. A few years ago, he kindly invited me to write a guest post about being an introvert and writer. Now he has a new book out on the art of listening, which I read and loved. You can read my review of The Listening Life below.

Review: The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in an Age of Distraction 

In his new book, The Listening Life, Adam McHugh explains that listening well—to others, to God, and to ourselves—does not come easily. It is difficult, often tiring work. Yet it is also enriching work that leads us closer to the lives of others and to the heart of God.

McHugh—an ordained Presbyterian minister and spiritual director—humbly examines the value of listening as a fellow learner in the “sacred art” of conversation. McHugh uses examples from his ministry, including his time serving as a hospice chaplain and his everyday experiences of building relationships. His bursts of humor are a highlight, especially if you take the time to read the pleasantly witty footnotes.

McHugh admits his own missteps as he outlines common listening approaches that can be harmful. One example is responding to someone’s expression of pain with a quick Scripture verse or platitude, an approach that can be more about telling them what to feel rather than actually letting them feel it with us.

“I have devoted and redevoted myself to listening because it is making me into the kind of person I want to be,” says McHugh. What kind of person is this? Someone who chooses patience over distraction, vulnerability over control, compassion over self-importance, and deep questions over fast answers. A “servant listener,” who pays attention to creation, makes time for prayerful solitude, and meditates on Scripture, but also bravely engages with others by “getting our feet dirty in the layered soil of their lives.” Simply put, a person who is becoming like Christ.

Ultimately, McHugh believes that listening is absolutely foundational to the lives of those who seek to follow Christ because it is a gift given by a listening God. To paraphrase 1 John 4:19: We listen because he first listened to us. We will never be perfect listeners, but the quest to become better is inseparable from our walk of faith. As McHugh says: “We learn how to listen because we want to learn how to love.”

The Listening Life is an observant, Scripture-led journey into practices that can reawaken us to our humanity and attune us to God’s leading in all areas of life.
(Banner review)

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