Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
There’s a good book that’s been out for quite a while called Stress Fractures by Charles ‘Chuck’ Swindoll. Some great topics. He shares one experience of how he was getting too busy with work commitments. He writes:
I was snapping at my wife and the kids, choking down my food at mealtimes. I was always in a hurry. Frustrated by the interruptions throughout the day, I was becoming unbearable. One night after dinner, our youngest daughter Colleen wanted to tell me something important which had happened at her school. ‘Daddy, I wanna tell you something—and I’ll tell you real fast’. I suddenly realized her sense of frustration and said, ‘Honey you can tell me—and it doesn’t have to be fast. Just say it slowly’. And this was Colleen’s response: ‘Then please listen slowly, Daddy’.
Do you listen slowly to others? Are you a good listener? Social researcher and best-selling author Hugh Mackay wrote Why don’t people Listen? in 1994, which became a classic book on the art of successful communication. He says we need each other. Hugh Mackay says one of the most common complaints about personal relationships is that others are not taking us seriously—they’re not listening carefully to what we say, and we feel they don’t understand.
Really listening takes discipline
Husband and wife have their troubles. She says to him, If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you 100 times. He’s not really listening to her. His mind is on something else. A very common problem I would say—especially for us men. Listening—really listening—requires deliberate purpose, focus and attention. It’s more than just paying attention. Can you listen without interrupting? It’s actually very hard to do. We want to offer our own opinion. Try it sometime and you’ll discover what I mean. Being a good listener takes discipline and a lot of hard work.
Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand: They listen with the intent to reply”. I think that is correct. Do you recall that old saying, Seek first to understand, rather than to be understood. Just because someone tells you something doesn’t mean you have to agree or act on it. But you can listen to what they are saying. Try and understand the why behind their idea.
But do people really listen? Franklin Roosevelt once tried an experiment. He had long lines of people wanting to meet him. But he felt no-one really listened to him. So he said, one by one, ”I murdered my grandmother this morning”. Most of his visitors said, “Marvellous. Keep up the good work. We are proud of you”. One alert diplomat leaned over and whispered in his ear, “I’m sure she had it coming”.
Are we hearing only what we want?
Maybe we hear only what we want to hear. Listening is so basic that we take it for granted. Others appear to be listening to you, but their minds are miles away somewhere else. This problem is everywhere. Social networking is all about talking and telling, and not about listening. But listening well bridges the gap between me and you. The good listener appreciates us as we are, accepts our feelings as valid, even though they may have different opinions.
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We must learn to suspend our own interests to focus on that other person, even for a while. No judging—only an act of kindness by you keeping quiet. Giving advice is not the best. If I said, Well, if I were you I would do this…, what I’m really saying is, Stop bothering me with your whining and do something about it. Hardly a helpful way to think. Some family members are hard to live with—but that doesn’t mean you stop listening to them.
“Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak” – James 1:19 NIV
I think it’s interesting that the New Testament says this in James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak”. God has created us to be relational people. We have an inner need to be linked with others—friends, family, and others in the community. But these relationships have to be worked at through being a good listener—to listen with love and care.
Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions”. By listening, we put aside our own agenda, take a break from what we’re doing, and give our full attention to the other one. It shows you really do care—that it’s worth your time—and, in turn, strengthens the relationship. It says, I have respect for you because I might learn something new for myself, to help my life. Therefore, out of respect for you, I will listen carefully.
Curb the desire to interrupt or respond. Wait until he or she is finished before offering any comment. We may even want to finish their sentence—but don’t do that. Be patient and try your hardest to understand. And at the end give feedback: What did you mean by that? I understand you to say…One of the biggest mistakes we make is trying to outdo their story, like, Oh, that reminds me of something that happened to me last week… Keep your priority on what the speaker wants to communicate to you.
God has given us two ears and only one tongue. Maybe that is a hint from God that we should listen more than talk. I’m sure that God can give us his Holy Spirit to listen carefully. It is a virtue which may be a big help to someone who is struggling.