Healthy Relationships - Welcome to the community of the Trinity - Chapter 10, "The hearing test
James 1:19, 20, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.”
They used to administer hearing tests in elementary schools. Teachers were desperate to determine if their students had hearing problems or if they just needed to learn how to listen. How about you? Are you a good listener? I’ve always thought that I was. A big part of my job (being a teacher of God’s word) involves listening to God and to his children. But when my mom came to live nearby, and as her health waned, I discovered that my listening skills weren’t as strong as I thought they were. (I’m sure Joni, my wife, could have told me that long ago!) Mom wasn’t easy to hear and our conversations were somewhat repetitive. I noticed that I became easily distracted and, often, failed to listen to her attentively. That struggle was magnified when we spoke by cell phone. Mom’s hearing and speaking were faltering, and our connections were often not clear. You may wrestle with this same problem. It is important for us to hone our listening skills because intense listening is a sign of love and a key element of good communication. And good communication is necessary for developing healthy and satisfying relationships. So, let’s take to heart this enduring admonition from James 1.
James 1:19, 20 makes clear the priority of listening. We are to be ‘quick to listen and slow to speak.’ The old country preacher said, “God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we would do twice as much listenin as we do talkin.” So, let’s think about what it means to listen ‘intensely?’ This is important because in these days of racial/social unrest there are increasing numbers of people who feel like they’re not being heard. I remember having a church member shout at me that I wasn’t listening to them. Actually, in that case, I was listening. I did hear what they were saying….I just didn’t agree with them, so they felt ‘unheard.’ Communication is hindered by weak listening, whether real or perceived.
And that’s where James headed with his instruction….to the results of weak listening. In a word, anger.
When we think someone isn’t listening to us, we feel disrespected. As the conversation goes further astray, we get frustrated. We feel misunderstood and insignificant. Joni and I have been in many marriage counseling sessions in which couples seemed to be talking ‘past’ each other. Both were doing lots of talking, neither appeared to be doing enough listening! It’s almost as frustrating for the counselors as it is for the couple.
Children must be taught to listen by their parents. One of the most important strategies in that process is listening carefully to them. Children can learn to listen well by being heard by their parents. That and some wisely employed discipline always helps! It is vital that parents train their children to speak clearly and to listen carefully.
What many of us don’t understand, is that good listening begins with listening to God! In Deuteronomy 30:19, 20 Moses challenged the Israelites (as they prepared to enter the Promised land), “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Some think it’s hard to hear God. Many don’t take or make the time to listen to him. But God is always speaking to us and if we’ll just learn to listen to him, he will make our relationships healthier and more satisfying!
Read your Bible carefully and you will hear God’s voice speaking truth into your mind and life. Listen closely as the Bible is taught, and you will hear God share with you his eternal wisdom. God speaks to his children through his Spirit. He speaks to us through other followers of Jesus. God speaks to us through nature. If we train ourselves to listen carefully (in the Spirit realm) we will hear God speaking to us and guiding us. Listening to God markedly improves our relationship with him and it, also, makes our personal relationships healthier and more satisfying!
So, good listening begins with learning to hear God’s voice and then moves on to intently listening to others. The same principles are at play in both. We need to slow down. Pace our lives and focus our minds on what our spouse (kids, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, neighbors, etc.) is trying to say to us. We are so into multi-tasking. We feel so rushed that the need to do multiple things at once overwhelms us. But that is not conducive to good listening. Focus on what the other person is saying to you. Listen with your ears and with your heart. One good practice I’ve learned is what I’ll call ‘clarifying summation.’ When someone shares a thought or plea or idea with you, sum it up by saying, “So, what I hear you saying is….” and then repeat what you think they’ve communicated. If you have heard them rightly they will let you know that and you can move on with the conversation. But, if you didn’t quite grasp what they were saying, they will take the opportunity to correct your ‘miss-hearing.’ Then you try again, “so, what I hear you saying is….” That process is tedious and can take a little longer, but if it helps you hear and understand better what was said, it is worth the time and trouble. Good communication is essential for healthy relationships.
I enjoy the convenience of cell phone technology. But one of the drawbacks is insufficient wireless coverage and dropped calls. You, no doubt, have had the experience of talking to someone on your cell phone and you suddenly have the sense that you are alone in the conversation. The connection was broken, and the call was dropped. You have been talking, for who knows how long, without anyone on the other end to hear what you said. That can be so frustrating. We all want to be heard and understood. Healthy and satisfying relationships require careful and intense listening. So, let us heed James instruction, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen….” (James 1:19)