The art of listening

Pay attention to me!
You aren’t listening!
What did I say?
…You don’t care.
Anyone who has ever had a conversation is sure to have run into these accusations at least once- probably more times than we can count or want to admit. Listening is something we are all suppose to do and it is what we demand from all our relationships. We become angry when our spouses ignore us, when our children don’t answer, when friends talk over us, and those in the service industry (doctors, tech help, restaurant helpers…) ‘help’ us with something that wasn’t even the issue.
We demand it, but do we do it?
No.
Why is listening so hard?
Have you heard the saying that “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason”? This is a great reminder to talk less and listen more. We find answers about the person in front of us if we just take the time to ‘hear’ them.

“The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”— Ralph Nichols

We want to be understood for who we really are, not what people think we are. We want to speak candidly with people, to get below the surface so that we are finally allowed to shed the mask we’ve been forced to place on our thoughts.
The faster our technology to get our ideas out there is, the less we speak deeply of our thoughts. With things like Facebook and Twitter and yes, even the “blog,” we are unto the next thought before we even have finished sending it out to the world.
So when we are confronted with a person who really wants to answer truthfully the question “How are you?” we don’t know what to do. We want to hear the answer ‘fine’ even if they just lost their spouse or are crying out for help because we don’t want to take the time to deal with the ramifications of the answer.
We have lost the art of listening.
We want to know everything in the span of a commercial or a 160 characters. If it can’t be compressed into those, we don’t want to spend the time on it.
Many of my friends have learned that if I ask how you are, I’m going to make sure I actually hear how you are. Many of them try to pass off the “fine” answer to me to which I look them in the eye and repeat- how are you? It gives them the answer to an unspoken question- do I really care about them? Yes.

“Listening looks easy, but it’s not simple. Every head is a world.”— Cuban Proverb

Listening is work. We want to speak of our own thoughts in the midst of the other person having the floor. We want to do a rebuttal before they finish their thought. We want to disagree simply so we can talk. Talking is easy- listening is hard.
I also think gossip is proof that we want the answer without having to listen for the truth. It is easier to speak freely of something than it is to go to the source and listen to the truth. And then realize that whatever you are gossiping about isn’t funny, it is hurtful. It has consequences.

“The best time to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust.”— Josh Billings

Proverbs 18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

When we jump to conclusions we create rifts in relationships. We assure the person who is talking that they don’t matter. That only my thoughts matter. That only I am right. We prove their fears.
Christians are as equally ignorant of the art of listening as is any other person who walks this earth. We are not better at it- though we should be. Christ listened even as he talked. Christ listened to the hearts of his followers and spoke to their problems. He didn’t disregard the Pharisees, but spoke to them with a strong love. He listened to their arguments and spoke to them in their beliefs.
We cannot disregard another’s beliefs when we wish to tell them about Christ’s sacrifice. We cannot talk over another’s heart in an attempt to sway them. We must meet them where they are and listen to their thoughts before lovingly disagreeing with them or clarifying thoughts with them.
Active listening is about loving the other person more than yourself.
It’s about suspending your own mouth to give someone else your full attention.
We must go at the process of listening with clear intention and stop being flaky about it.
Put down your phone, turn off the tv, take your ear-buds out and be present in the conversation.
I’m asking you- Do you care about me?

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