Listening

What did you say? I wasn’t listening.

Ed, my neighbor next door, ran into me at the post office last Wednesday. Seeing my handful of letters he asked, “Are all those bills you’re paying?”

“No, they are valentines for my seven grandkids,” I said. I should have stopped there, but I went on to tell Ed that these cards are homemade. I even made one for my wife.

Ed looked stricken and ushered me to a more private area of the post office. “I wouldn’t talk in public about making your wife a valentine. You could shoot her a moose or bring her home a catch of fresh fish and talk about it. But believe me – making her a valentine should be kept a secret. Even making your grandchildren valentines is a weird thing to do,” Ed said. Then he added, “You are always saying things without thinking, as if people can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Ed doesn’t realize that most people don’t fully hear what is being said. I know, because I have trouble listening to others completely. I’m not surprised when others only hear a little of what I have said. Isn’t it true that listening to another person can be a pleasure, but also irritating, boring, time-consuming, pointless and offensive? The worst is being forced to listen to what you don’t want to hear. Why do people want you to listen to them when you are busy and involved in others things?

The Bible distinguishes between hearing and understanding, seeing and perceiving. What we hear but do not understand soon disappears like whiskers shaved off by a razor. We can see with our eyes, yet not be aware of what is before us. We can see Mary washing the dishes and not notice her slouched shoulders and exhausted movements. Temptation invites us to listen to what we like to hear and see only what seems promising. Loving others as ourselves means being willing to listen to others, which is the test of our love for them. Our love empowers our hearing.

If I am listening to another person, I must concentrate on that person. Listening is a challenge, because others need to express what they think and believe. People want to be both heard and understood. Only love can keep my own calloused opinions from hardly hearing you when I disagree with what you are saying. God calls us to hear with our ears and understand with our hearts because He is love.

God is love and has no problem listening to and understanding us. Love and listening are our problems, not His. Beginning with Adam and Eve, we have refused to listen to God and trust Him with our complete love. We try to do our own thing without God. We get all tangled up in love of ourselves. God wants us to hear that love is about loving others the way He has loved us. Like a good shepherd, Jesus willingly laid down his life for us. Because of Jesus’ death, God’s love could blot out our sins through Jesus’ shed blood. True love means sacrificing our time, attention and hardened opinions to listen to others. Will you listen to others to hear with your ears and understand with your heart?

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Raymond Maher
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