As a preschooler’s mom, I often say, “Are you listening to me?” When my son says yes, I usually follow up with, “What did I say?” Although a logical part of my mind knows better, the busy, everyday part thinks that if my child will just listen, then he will do as I say.
Writing that makes me laugh. He is my child, and this from the woman who had a heart-to-heart with the Southern Baptist pastor who presided at the wedding to share that she was not going to say “obey” in her vows. I listen to my husband, but that doesn’t mean I obey.
Reflecting on this as a parent, I saw a Facebook post from Momastery, a blog by Glennon Melton. She wrote, “My suspicion is that we all THINK we're listening when what we're really doing is simply waiting another person out so we can say our piece. So we can bring things back to us, so we can explain why we're righter, so we can fix things and fit them to our already established schema.”
When I was training as a Stephen Minister, one of our core practices was listening. We were to receive whatever was shared with us. Most people don’t feel heard on a regular basis. But for those who are experiencing difficult transitions – divorce, loss, diagnosis – the confidence of knowing there is at least one person who is really listening is a blessing.
Have you ever known a gifted listener? I met one early on in my ministry, when I was just fumbling toward God’s calling for my life. He let me pour out my heart, never giving any indication that he may have anything else to do but hear what I was saying. Over time, I noticed that he had this gift even in crowds. He was never one to look over your head, scouting out a better networking opportunity. Instead, he was completely there, present to the moment, listening to you.
Long before we had the gift of inexpensive written words thanks to Mr. Gutenberg which led to higher literacy rates, ancient peoples told stories. Experts usually call this an oral culture, that their histories and identities were conveyed by word of mouth. But I suggest that rather than an oral culture, ancient peoples had aural cultures, based on hearing.
Early in our Scriptures, we read, “Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:3-9).
“Hear,” “observe,” “hear,” and “keep” are used before “recite,” “talk,” “bind,” “fix,” and “write.” God asks God’s people to listen first, to keep these words in their hearts, before they take any steps toward speaking, even to their children. It’s the course of wisdom, and especially convicting for this pastor who has a tendency to speak first.
Melton’s post shared some words from Mark Nepo: “To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly, to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.”
Imagine if we really listened that way – to God, to our families, to our friends, to our enemies, and beyond. How might we be challenged and change and grow?
So this week, I’m going to stop trying to get my son to listen to me so much and I’m going to listen to him instead. When he struggles to tell me how sad it made him when a friend wouldn’t share with him, I’ll do my best to listen patiently. I can’t wait to see how I might change by leaning in. Consider to whom you might listen. I pray it becomes an avenue of blessing.