Are We Listening?
By Janice Price
We all want to be heard when we speak, to know another person is listening to what we say and understanding us. Communication is important between family members, friends, co-workers, and even between the animals in this house.
I am really pleased with how well my pets get along. The cats know the difference between a canine feigned and a threatening growl. With a threatening growl, the cat knows he better let go of that bone, remove his teeth from the dog’s ear, or take his head out of the dog’s food bowl - pronto! And the dogs know the difference between a playful swipe of a cat’s paw and the claws-out swat of an irate feline. They might not speak the same language but they communicate.
People are often a different story. Very few people actually listen to what is being said. They hear what they expect to hear, what they want to hear, or whatever agrees with the ramblings in their own mind.
There is the out of range listener. While someone is speaking, this person mentally prepares a shopping list, balances the checkbook or remembers a story that will top yours, whether a tale of woe or riches.
“You had an ingrown toenail? Well, let me tell you all the details about my hernia operation.”
There is the clairvoyant listener. The other day I started to tell a story to someone who interrupted me after the second sentence to give a negative opinion on the ending of the story. This is a regular thing with this person. I start to talk and I’m corrected, given advice or told what to do before the other person even knows what the subject is. To make matters worse, the response has little or nothing to do with the outcome.
“I was walking down Maple Drive, noticed a $100 bill in the street-” “What wonderful news! I know you can use the extra money.” – (“bent to pick it up, was hit by a bus and broke both legs. I’m calling you from my hospital room.”)
“I have been out of work for two years-” “I’m so sorry. You must be terribly discouraged. Perhaps my psychiatrist could help you cope with your depression.” - (“but I was just hired at four times my old salary and I will be working at my dream job.”)
“I’m not one of those people who thinks every dog should have at least one litter-” “Oh, that’s great. So, when are the puppies due?” – (“so I just had her spayed,”)
Then, there is the Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet!) personality from the British sitcom “Keeping Up Appearances.” Talking to a plant would produce a better response.
“Hyacinth, I can’t come over for coffee right now. An ambulance is on the way to take my husband to the hospital.” “That’s nice, dear. The coffee will be ready in five minutes. Do put on a nice dress before you come over.”
There is, of course, the non-listener. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. Would you repeat the last witness’ testimony, please?”
There are many other types of non-listeners. A true listener should be valued as a rare jewel.
Our listening habits carry over into our spiritual lives too. When God speaks, are we listening, or are we daydreaming, planning another good work to do for church, or assuming we know better than God and skipping the listening altogether?
When we read the history of the church and note the confusion in religious teachings today, we wonder how Scripture could be so confusing, giving birth to so many different beliefs, including mainstream religions and off the planet cult beliefs. But is it that Scripture is confusing or that we are confusing Scripture because we aren’t listening to what God is actually trying to communicate to us through his word?
John calls Jesus the Word. (John 1: 1,14) Others have called Jesus a prophet, a good man, a sinner, an imposter, and even a homosexual. Jesus knows firsthand what it is like to speak and not be heard or to be heard but not understood. He has come into contact with every type of listener that exists. Some heard what he said, believed, and lives were changed. Some heard what they wanted to hear and used his words as a Gimme License. (Gimme this, gimme that.) Others twisted his teachings to grow rich and powerful. His words have been used to institute total control over and sometimes physical, mental or spiritual abuse against those under authority.
The Bible has a lot to say about hearing, but hearing isn’t enough. Are we listening? Because if we aren’t paying attention, we won’t understand what we’re hearing. And if we’re only listening with half an ear, so to speak, we will miss his still small voice when he answers our prayers to guide us and direct our paths.
Sometimes I have been preoccupied, ill, overworked, or self-centered. Those have been some of my past excuses for not listening. I’m determined to do better today and in the future. I don’t want to miss anything God has to say to me. What about you?
The Word says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)
© 2005 Janice Price