A few years ago, Chris and I were having a discussion on ways we could improve our marriage. Let me first say that we are not marriage guru’s living in rainbow-land who regularly sit down and talk about rose petals and fluffy puppies. Truth be told, we had hit a rut big time and were desperate to climb out. Our compromise was to sit down and have a deep heart-to-heart discussion on what we were each missing and felt was lacking. So I asked him what he needed from me that I wasn’t doing/providing/understanding or being sympathetic towards and he (a little too quickly) answered: “Well, sometimes (always the gracious gentlemen in his approach) I feel like you don’t listen to me. I mean, your ears are present, but you’re not listening. Does that make sense?” “Ummm, no. It does not. I listen. I always listen. How can you say I don’t listen when I just heard you say I don’t listen?” Grrr… I was angry. I was hurt. I was confused. I was insulted. But mostly I was embarrassed because my pride was blown wide open and a weakness had just been exposed.
Looking back on that conversation, I realize that my quick responding tongue missed the boat/concept completely. I was obviously not listening even in that moment. But over the following few weeks, as I began to pray, my heart began to soften, my ego began to diminish, and I began to hear what he was really trying to say.
That conversation changed me.
I began asking myself what it means to really listen, and more so, what it means to be a good listener? As I began to ponder the definition of the word ‘listen,’ I began to think about all the important relationships in my life: my mom, my dad, my sisters, my friends, my neighbours, my husband (and the list goes on), and I began to ask myself if I was taking the time to really listen to them? Like when my sister calls me excited about school and the new things she is learning, do I listen, or am I focused on not burning supper? Or when my mom vents about a frustrating thing at work, something that I can’t relate to and that doesn’t have any impact on my life, am I really listening, or am I thinking about the errand I’ve gotta run and how I should really be getting off the phone? Or what about church? Am I really listening on Sunday morning to what my Pastor is speaking into my life? Am I hearing the message behind the words that are being spoken?
Enter embarrassingly admitted weakness: I can be a horrible listener.
Now, years later, I would love to admit that that once-upon-a-time lesson is not something I presently struggle with. I would love to admit that I have mastered the art of listening and can proudly proclaim I am perfect. I would love to declare that following that heart-to-heart discussion, Chris entered me in a “Wife of the World” contest where I easily captured the first place title without so much as breaking a bead of sweat. But I would be lying. Cause much like physical conditioning and healthy eating; choosing to listen is an on-going process. It’s an intentionality that takes practice and commitment and mental discipline. It is something I struggle with and will most likely always struggle with because of my over-active brain, but it’s important to me, and so I choose to work at it.
Now for the God factor.
Matthew 11:15 makes SO much more sense…
He who has ears let him hear.
Simple. Yet genius.
Here’s a deeper truth: It’s not just Chris, or my mom, or my sisters, or my friends who bare the brunt of my ‘lack-of-listening’ weakness. The reality is, the big guy upstairs suffers too. In my daily quest to get my devotions done for the day, I neglect to hear what he’s really trying to show me. I miss what he’s trying to teach me. I lose out on an opportunity to grow, to learn, to change, and to evolve into a waaaaaayyyyy better version of myself. And that saddens me. I don’t want to miss the subtle details of any important relationship, especially one so loving, so forgiving, so gracious, so merciful and so unconditional as the one I have (undeservingly) with God.
And so during my listening quest those few years back, I heard a timely sermon that really spoke to me and challenged me. They are notes that I have recently stumbled upon and have, once again, been reminded of, and notes I would like to share with you now. They are 4 simple steps on how to be a better listener, but when applied to conversation with people and quiet time with God, they leave you with a greater understanding and appreciation to whom you are interacting with.
1. Remove all distractions.
Turn off cell phones and arrange a time to talk when your schedule allows. Otherwise you will be too distracted with the clock and the fact that you have somewhere else to be.
2. Use body language to encourage.
Nodding your head will indicate you hear what the speaker is saying. Eye to eye contact will confirm, more than anything else, that you are engaged in what they are saying. That what they are saying is important and you are being authentic in your attentiveness.
3. Place yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Active listening is not about inward thinking. It is not a good idea to consider yourself to be smarter and assume that if you had been in their shoes, you would have seen your way through the problem much faster. Truly try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective.
4. Stop talking and try to be silent.
This might sound obvious, but one of the biggest obstacles to listening, for many people, is resisting the impulse to offer advice. If they want your advice, they will ask for it, so in the meantime, listen, and you can’t listen if you’re too busy talking.
Listen: to hear with intention; to pay close attention