First you listen. Then you act.


She says it aloud, but to no one in particular, “I need a ride back.”

I ask her when. After she talks to Mrs F, she says. Let me know when you’re ready, I tell her. I’ll take you back.

I’m not proud of myself for my willingness to do it. I’m excited I thought of it at all.

Because often I don’t even think of it.  

And especially in the moment. Maybe the idea will come later. Oh! I could have done that for her! By then, I’ve missed the opportunity for action.

My preemptive roadblocks of fear and selfishness and pride choke off the thoughts before they have a chance to surface.

Granted, having a homeless friend and knowing what she needs hasn’t exactly been a thought to consider until the past couple of years.

How can I know what to do for somebody so different from me?

First, I have to listen.  

  • I have to hear with ears wide open.
  • I have to see with eyes looking deeper.
  • I have to love with a heart gaping bare.

Then I can act.

God knows it’s the extraordinary that grabs my attention so he keeps mixing in the different.

A half an hour later, I get word my friend is ready to leave. She has a guy friend with her who also needs a ride back to under the bridge.

I ask his name as he gets into the car. He tells me, but he’s quiet. I ask a few more questions, wanting him to know I’m listening, not wanting him more wary of me than I am of him.

He needs to know he’s being heard. Everybody needs that.

My friend tells me to turn left at the light. It still feels weird letting them out at the curb, watching them melt invisible into the city. But they’re fine with it; it’s me still adjusting.

I roll down my windows and drive away, wondering how in the world I know so little about the world. So little about the different kinds of people in it. So little about how God works among them, in them, around them.

I ask for better hearing in the moments of opportunity.

So I can . . .

  • Learn more.
  • Live more.
  • Love more.

Because when I don’t notice, I don’t act.
And when I don’t act,
I miss out.   

* * *

Sometimes I regret it, but my One Word 2014 is Compassion.


The theme for June is Action, particularly these two (from Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life) . . .

(1) Resolve to act once every day with the positive version of the Golden Rule:
“Treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.”
(2) Resolve each day to fulfill the negative version of the Golden Rule:
“Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.”

What small act of compassion has someone done for you lately? Which of these two is easier for you: (1) to be nice, or (2) to refrain from being mean? I’d love to hear.

30 thoughts on “First you listen. Then you act.

  1. blankLinda@Creekside

    This is such thoughtful writing, Lisa. I am struck by how we are all wounded deep inside and those wounds are strikingly familiar and similar, no matter how different the outer circumstances seem. Thank you for taking us there today, for asking the questions that have no easy answers, for putting yourself on the line.

    I so appreciate your heart, friend … and this is an important way to start the week.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Yes, our wounds are similar at the root, aren’t they? I’ve just started a Beth Moore study for our summer reading club with the women in my extended family, “So Long, Insecurity.” I’m struck with how similar many of our feelings really are, even though on the surface they may appear different. That’s why we all need to help each other! Thanks for all your encouragement, Linda.

  2. blankBarbara H.

    I too often do that – I don’t even think about how I could have helped someone until later, and if I do think of it in time, I sometimes talk myself out of it for various reasons. Sometimes it is because I’m too caught up in my own world, sometimes because I haven’t developed the awareness and dependence upon the Holy Spirit to catch the cues.

    I do like the notes at the end to find concrete ways to incorporate the “Golden Rule.”

    As to your question, it *generally* easier to refrain from being mean, just because I grew up with a father with a bad temper and learned to bottle things up so as not to make waves. It is harder for me to actively look for ways to be nice.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I wonder if that initial hesitation is part of our introverted nature…. But regardless, I know I need to push through it more, after I develop more awareness of it. Step by step.

      I’m with you on the “not being mean” answer; that’s usually easier for me too. My meanness is more in not doing the nice thing, if that makes sense. ha.

  3. blankSherrey Meyer

    Lisa, I think many of us are just like you. In our world today, there are so many in need it shouldn’t be hard to act on what could be a simple act of compassion and grace. And yet we make it harder than it really is. The words, “Because when I don’t notice, I don’t act. And when I don’t act, I miss out.” Wanting to memorize that.

    Who has reached out to me in compassion lately? Ah, my good and loving husband as we have struggled with our eldest and an issue he created for us by an emotionally abusive rant toward me recently. My husband is such a good man, and an amazing gift in my life. He comforted, he loved, he let me cry and sob, and he protected me, as my heavenly Father would do.

    I had a hard time deciding which of the two personas I am, but I have to go with the first. I often act quickly and then wonder to myself, “Why did I sign on for this duty?” Then afterwards am so glad I did.

    Quickly visiting from Unforced Rhythms this Monday morning. Have a blessed week!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I relate to seeing compassion from my husband as well. I hosted my own mini-pity party last night and invited him as a guest. ha. He gave me encouragement instead (even though that crashed the party.) 🙂 So grateful for people who do follow the Golden Rule! Praying you have a blessed week yourself, Sherrey.

  4. blankPamela

    I think refraining from being mean is easier for me. I hate hurting anyone’s feelings even if they have said/done something to deserve it. But like you, I may not have thought to offer a ride or some other need. I should be more aware. I am more apt to help someone “in the church” as another. I need to work on that, don’t I? Learn more, live more, love more….yes!


    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Needing more awareness seems to be a common theme among many of us. It’s definitely a need I have. (And then I need more courage to act, too!) Open our eyes, Lord….

  5. blankkd sullivan

    Lisa, it is so good to be reading your words again! I work with an amazing organization called Love INC. Listening to our clients is one of the things that we strive to do everyday. Everyone has a story and everyone deserves to be heard. Another thing we endeavor to do is to ask those, like your homeless friends what their hopes and dreams are. It is so difficult when struggling to survive another day to have a hope and dream. In fact, we just recently did a dream board class when we made dream boards together and promised to hold one another accountable to walking toward these goals. I think you are well on your way to your 2014 word of compassion. Listening is one of the greatest ways we can show others that we feel for them…

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Love INC sounds wonderful. What a blessing it must be for so many, and a blessing that you’re there in the middle of it. I know seeing those dream boards put together was an inspiring sight. Really listening to each other sounds like such an easy thing to do–I wonder why it’s often so hard for us to do….

  6. blankKelly Chripczuk

    Yes, listening – one of those things that feels like doing nothing, but makes all the difference in the world! A man approached me and my boys on the street this morning in a sketchy part of town and my first thought was to rush into where we were headed, but when I listened long enough, I found out he just needed directions to the bus stop. So glad I paused long enough to hear. Thanks for sharing your journey, Lisa. Visiting from Unforced Rhythms.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      Such a great example of what listening can do. Thanks for sharing that story, Kelly! So often I let fear hinder me from listening–you could have done that too. But so glad you paused instead.

  7. blankJody Collins

    Lisa, I went to a conference earlier this month and the theme of Social Justice was very prevalent. One workshop was called ‘Living Sideways’–i.e. not just looking at the people next to us but SEEING them…..
    Your piece underlines this important message in today’s world. You’re a great listener–to the Holy Spirit and to others. Thank you for sharing this encouragement here to do the same.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I love this, Jody: “living sideways.” What a great phrase and one I hope I’ll remember. Too often we want to get our worth from living “over” people, or hide by living “under”, but living “sideways” is where we walk side by side helping each other. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like a great conference.

  8. blankbluecottonmemory

    My word(s) this year or theme or class God has enrolled me in has been “changing conversation” – and that has included learning to listen better and revising the intent of my conversation. It is challenging – but in order to reach people – you have to listen and sometimes you have to redefine the starting point of communication. Through your intentionality – your compassion and heart are so courageous – and blooming to reseed so beautifully!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      “revising the intention of my conversation” – I find that intriguing. It’s so easy to approach conversations as a way to trade information but if we could approach them more as a way to see each other’s hearts, I wonder how they’d sound…. I’m sure you’re a star pupil in the class God has enrolled you in. 🙂

  9. blankJolene Underwood (@Faith_Eyes)

    Listen first? AMEN! That has been the cry of my heart for myself and others. Please LISTEN first. How can we love well if we don’t really know what we’re doing? How can we serve well if we are only going through the motions. Listen – to the person in need or hurt. Listen – to the spirit’s leading. AMEN!

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I find that it’s something that *I* appreciate when others do for me, too. Sad to say, but sometimes finding a true listener can be difficult. Even more so, it’s hard BEING a true listener. But it’s the way we can learn so much more about others, listening not only to their words, but also to their hearts underneath the words. And listening to the Spirit? Yes–that should be at the top of our list. Thanks, Jolene.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’m praying I’ll practice it this afternoon when I’m out and about. Sometimes it’s easy to think I’m a good listener when I’m at home alone. ha. But the true test comes when I’m out among people.

  10. blanklaura

    oh, lisa, i’ve been asking for better hearing too. this whole ordeal with the abducted girls in nigeria has had my heart broken. how can i understand such a thing? it’s so hard, so different than this comfortable life. but yes, it starts with listening, doesn’t it? you alway challenge me to step out of my comfort zone, friend.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I know; I can hardly stand to read anything about the Nigerian girls because it is so horrible. 🙁 There are lots of things in life that I’d rather just close my eyes to, but I know that’s not the answer either. Praying for the Lord to give us vision to see what we need to see and courage to do what needs to be done. Thanks for your encouragement, Laura.

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  12. blankLaura Connell

    Your question at the end there reminded me of the Scripture that’s been on my heart for several weeks: “obedience is better than sacrifice.” So I’d say #1 is harder but greater. It’s harder to do unto others than to refrain from doing harm – but it’s better. Maybe.

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      “Obedience is better than sacrifice” – that’s a verse that goes well with this, Laura. Obeying the greatest commands to love God and love others is the best (yet hardest!) thing we can ever do.

  13. blank~ linda

    “Because when I don’t notice, I don’t act.
    And when I don’t act, I miss out.”
    Sometimes, I don’t notice because I don’t want to see or hear or even be around. This post really rings a bell for me, Lisa. Each person is God’s creation, no matter how they are living or what caused them to be in some predicament or such. God calls us to love our neighbors, our enemies, one another. Such a call and one that I need to heed far more often than I do. Thank you for being you and sharing you with us. So glad I came from Messy Middle.
    Caring through Christ, ~ linda

    1. blankLisaNotes Post author

      I’m always honored when you visit, Linda. (You have my mind set on that word now. :))

      I too often don’t want to notice either; it’s so much easier NOT to notice. But we miss out on so much when we don’t. Thanks for stopping by, friend.

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