When I was growing up, (and come to think of it, as an adult) my family would get together and sometimes get quite boisterous. From time to time when the volume would go slightly beyond the threshold our mom could stand, she would say, “Sshhh, listen kids” (and we were all kids regardless of our chronological age). The “Sshhh” would catch us temporarily off guard and for a brief moment, there would be silence. Taking that cue of silence, Mom would follow up by saying, “Ah, now doesn’t that sound better?” When I was a kid, that comment would send me into a frustrated “gnaw on woodwork” state but now I genuinely understand and appreciate what she meant.
Today, our day to day world is so full of constant white noise invading our very being and often times it is, to coin a phrase “too noisy to hear ones’ self think”. Why is it we feel the need to have something invariably blaring in our ears most of the day, whether it be music, the television or (wait for it…) your cell phone? It is a wonder we can still hear, let alone listen…
Did you know there is a difference between hearing and actually listening? Let me explain. I have over the past decade or so been learning to really listen to someone in lieu of completely hearing them. My old nemesis, Meniere’s disease has left me completely deaf on my right side; I can now actually turn a deaf ear if I want to. I can even turn on my good ear at night and tune out thunderstorms! During the process of dealing with my impending hearing loss, I had to find creative ways to compensate for not hearing correctly. I found positioning myself on the right most end of a table allowed me to hear conversations better with my good left ear. I developed some lip reading skills by turning the volume down on the TV and watching the mouths move as they annunciated words. I also watched body language and facial expressions in addition to hearing voice to get a complete picture. It was during this transition that I discovered that even though we might have good hearing, we are poor listeners.
Listening is an active sport where a participant has to surrender both some time and attention to the one attempting to communicate a thought. Listening to a person takes not only the art of hearing what is being said with your ears but your brain and heart as well. Maintaining eye contact and appropriately reading nonverbal body language as well as voice inflection can give you the complete picture of what the communicator is attempting to convey. It takes setting aside the gift of time to properly listen and communicate; time we often either don’t have or are unwilling to give.
Today though, it appears that verbal communication is frequently replaced by an electronic forgery such as e-mail, texting, Facebook, tweeting, or even emoticons. How often do those communications get misinterpreted? Don’t get me wrong; these are very useful tools given the right circumstances. However, many times we use these methods as a surrogate instead of trying to develop whole meaningful relationships. I am not talking about striking up a conversation with a stranger as much as your own friends and family. How many times have you been around the dinner table and at least half of the family members were texting, scrolling or otherwise distracted instead of interacting with one another? It seems we have allowed our loved ones to become our intimate strangers. Proverbs 25:12 (NIV) says “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear.” It just seems that anymore, the parent is too busy trying to post their new favorite recipe on Facebook than to listen and give advice to their children who desperately need it.
I am only writing this because it is something I struggle with as well. I don’t have it all together and constantly attempt to be a better listener. It takes TIME…and common courtesy on our part to sit and listen. To be perfectly honest, sometimes I find myself mentally playing a game of Double Dutch jump rope, attempting to find that point of entry where I could interject that awesome lack of wisdom I feel the urge to bestow on another instead of just listening…
Hhmmm…and how do we listen to God when we can’t even listen to our own loved ones with skin on. Psalm 5:3 (NLT) states “Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.” When we pray to our Lord, we need to lift up our needs to Him and then wait…and listen perhaps? And when we listen to His still small voice or hear Him speak through His word then what? James 1:22 (NIV) says “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Take action…DO!! That is not asking for or expecting any more than what we would from our own children when we give them instruction…right?
So Sshhh…LISTEN!! You might be amazed what you will hear and learn…and be asked to take action…And it’s not too late to put down that device and give some time to those you love. I’ve never heard anyone say before that “if I could have just tweeted one more time to that loved one before he or she died” but I have seen more than my share of bitter regrets at the graveside…”If I had just taken the time to visit more, to talk…to listen”.
Proverbs 19:20 (NIV) Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.