Learning to Listen

Picture of me and Ash

My daughter could’ve become a statistic, part of the growing “unchurched” population, many of whom left the church not due to doctrinal differences or unbelief but rather, hurt. Wounds caused by those who claim to follow Jesus but behave nothing like Him.

The problem is, we rarely know what lies beneath the surface. We see the tense body language, the scowls, hear the angry and hostile responses, and form all sorts of quick judgments.

We attack symptoms rather than taking the time to get to the root.

Like a tender flower nurtured or trampled, faith blossoms or dies in the heart. This, therefore, is our target. To reach it, we must listen well, a skill I’m sorely deficient in. As a result, I’ve hurt those I care about and I’ve shut down, in some cases, irreversibly, eternally significant conversations. In my failure to truly listen, to the person and the Holy Spirit within me, I’ve created barriers not only between myself and another person, but I fear perhaps between them and God as well.

I almost did the same with my daughter during her teen years. I knew once she left the home, a day that was rapidly approaching, she could walk away from the church for good. There would be no one to encourage her to go to follow Jesus. In my fear and growing sense of urgency, I began to push. Thank God for a wise husband who remains sensitive to the Spirit’s prompting. Watching our interactions and the tension growing between my daughter and I, he urged me to stop. To pull back before I pushed her away.

So I did. I let conversations regarding God drop and surrendered our daughter to Christ. But I began to pray, with the fervency of one who knows an important situation is out of their hands. Perhaps that’s the best outcome surrender produces. It reminds us where the power for life change truly lies, and that’s not in our well-crafted arguments or logical presentations but rather with Christ.

Surrender reminds us that God does indeed know best how to reach the hearts He created. Trusting this to be true with my daughter, I turned every anxious thought to prayer. I prayed He’d soften her heart, speak to her in ways only He could, guide me daily in how to respond, and give me the strength and courage to obey. To truly live as an instrument of His perfect, brilliant, life-changing love and grace.

Two women sitting together with quote from post

In the meantime, I waited and loved, with an ever-attentive ear to Christ and everything my daughter was and wasn’t saying. While this felt frightening at the time, God showed me beauty and healing unfold when we are “quick to listen [and] slow to speak” as James 1:19 instructs.

For my daughter, it took about a year and a half of listening, of waiting and praying, before the truth came out. Contrary to what I’d thought, she wasn’t pulling away out of disbelief. All her scientific knowledge hadn’t captured and deceived her heart. God’s children, those who had spoken judgement and condemnation, had.

As a result, pain had become tangled with faith, causing every church service, worship song, and family Bible reading to trigger those wounds buried deep within.

And I almost missed it.

I’ve since discovered, my daughter’s experience is far from unique. So many of the people we interact with each day, maybe even try to share our faith with, appear angry on the outside, but inside, they’re wounded.

But we belong to a God who “searches and knows” us. Who actively plunges the depths of the human soul, uncovering those deeply hidden hurts no one else sees or, perhaps, even takes the time to uncover. And Scripture says we’re His ambassadors, His representatives and image bearers. To act as instruments of healing, because Scripture tells us it’s His kindness, not our rebuttals, that lead to repentance.

God truly does have the power to change lives and save souls. That’s not to say we should never speak truth, but rather, that we do so always and only as God leads.

path image with quote from post.

May you and I stop throwing up road blocks and begin paving loving, safe pathways instead.

You can hear more of her story, and on the power of listening well, in my latest podcast episode titled Courage for When Our Kids Doubt the Faith. While we speak specifically on interactions between parents and their children, the principles discussed apply to all of our interactions.

The Courage to Heal from Church Hurt – Ep. 75 Faith Over Fear

What happens when the places God designed to lead us closer to Him, to healing and wholeness, and freedom, become hurtful and toxic? When past hurts create present anxiety that make it challenging for us to enter church buildings, join community groups, and connect with Christ? Unfortunately, many people wrestle with these questions as they try to make sense of God. For those who have been wounded by people in positions of authority, it can be hard to untangle truth from human criticism and God’s character from the false representation of Him. In this episode, Minister Dawn Gentry, the Executive Director of Adult Ministries at Christ Community Church in Omaha, Nebraska, and Jennifer’s daughter, Ashley Chester, discuss some of the church hurts they’ve experienced and witnessed and how God helped them move toward increased wholeness and gave them the courage to overcome lies spoken into their hearts in order live for Him. Find Dawn Gentry at: https://followinggodanyway.com https://www.facebook.com/dawn.gentry2 https://www.instagram.com/gentry2987/ Find Jennifer: https://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com https://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte https://www.instagram.com/slatteryjennifer/ Find Wholly Loved, at: https://www.WhollyLoved.com Join the private Faith Over Fear Group Here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/442736966614671 Book Dawn mentioned: The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk Group Discussion Questions: 1. What resonated with you most in today’s episode? 2. Why do hurts related to faith hurt so deeply? 3. When have you been told, in the context of religion, that you’re not enough or that you’re “too much”? How did this make you feel? 4. How would you describe a toxic faith group? 5. How would you describe a healthy faith group? 6. When has a past hurt hindered your ability to attend church, join a group, or connect with God? 7. What are some healthy ways group members can respond to another member’s doubts or questions? 8. What are some unhealthy responses to someone’s doubts or questions? 9. What are some ways a person can begin to separate hurts they’ve experienced from the love of God? 10. Why is it important to always remember who we are in Christ? 11. What is one action step God is inviting you to take based on today’s episode? Episode Image Credit: Getty/Image_Jungle
  1. The Courage to Heal from Church Hurt – Ep. 75
  2. Introducing: Reframed The Power of Perspective
  3. Healing from Religious Abuse (with Philip Yancey) – Ep. 74
  4. The Courage to Seek Counseling – Ep. 73
  5. A Practical Resource to Battle Fear – Ep. 72
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Speaking of showing love and grace to those who have been hurt by the church, that is one of the most beautiful actions I’ve witnessed from my Wholly Loved team members. They truly have a heart for the hurting and actively speak love and grace to wounded hearts. And you can help us reach even more women, a growing number of whom are becoming increasingly disconnected and struggling with mental health challenges like never before. This Giving Tuesday, prayerfully consider if God is asking you to partner with us as we point others to the soul-reaching freedom Christ offers. Click HERE to make a donation of any amount.

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  1. Thank you, Jennifer, for this post. It spoke volumes to me about some wounded relationships in my family. May my ears be large and my mouth small as I continually give them back to the One who shapes our hearts.

  2. My daughter and several sons as well as my husband left Church. My husband was hurt. The kids it was several influences; spouses and a liberal public university.
    Please pray for their hearts to be softened and for the flame of the Holy Spirit to grow into a burning fire they cannot ignore.

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