Of all the gifts we can give to another person or receive from someone, few are as valuable as listening. If we are to listen to someone else, we must step outside of ourselves, quiet our internal dialogue, lay aside our electronic devices that hold us under their spell, and be fully present to the person speaking.
Listening is not easy, and it requires sacrifice.
One of the very best books on listening is The Listening Life by Adam S. McHugh that I read several years ago. If you have not experienced this book, I encourage you to be sure it is on your list.
One of the starred sentences in my copy of the book states this:
“ Good listening starts with the scandalous premise that this conversation is not about you.”
We might easily nod in agreement with this, but our actual conversations may reveal something else. What we recall of what the other person in a conversation shared can give a clue about how well we listened and whether we listened only to the words or if we heard below the surface of the words.
But listening, even at its best, is not enough.
If we knew Hebrew and looked at the word “listen” we would discover that the word means to hear and respond. Those things coupled together equals obedience. That truth deepens the meaning of listen.
That understanding helps identify what causes someone frustration when another person has listened to them without response or action of some sort. We doubt that listening has occurred at all.
Listening in the deeper sense of the word should change the scene from passive to active.
As parents we often admonish our children to “listen” to us about something we want or need to share with them. A generation or two ago parents would have used the word “obey” in this context even though that word seems to have fallen out of fashion. It is nonetheless no less important than ever and the Hebrew word for “listen” makes that evident.
In our push to be self-actualized and independent we can bristle at the thought of needing to obey someone or something. That response reveals more of the DNA of Adam and Eve than we want to admit.
We look at obedience as limiting us, hindering us, and that incomplete definition suggests how deceived we may be.
I am to obey the speed limit when I am driving. Yes, it limits me, but it also protects me and everyone else anywhere near the vehicle I am driving.
Another aspect of listening with obedience is the importance of not dawdling to act. Not obeying a red light or a stop sign at the immediate point can be and often is deadly.
When our daughter became a new mom, she and her husband instituted the rule of “first time obedience” in their home. The rule considered the Hebrew definition of “listen.” They did not expect to keep telling the children something they were to do repeatedly again without an appropriate response. That may sound tough but consider what response you would want if your child were running into the street. You would want them not only to listen and hear, but also to act and obey… the first time.
If we are honest with ourselves, we tend to not be very good with obedience. We often cheat about the speed limit, our diet, and a host of other things if we feel we can get away with it.
We don’t live in Deuteronomy. Jesus paid the price on the cross for our inability to obey perfectly the first time and always. He loved us that much. What we missed often was that His call for obedience was out of love for us, to keep us safe, to provide blessings, and to nurture us to love Him.
He didn’t want us to only feel love for Him in the emotional one-dimensional sense of the word love.
Love in Hebrew involved a decision and devotion and obedience.
In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy in the sixth chapter is a section known as “The Shema.” It is the centerpiece of the early part of this book whose key words include “listen” and “love.” You may recall what it says even if you did not know the word “Shema”:
“Listen, Oh Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord alone, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your might.”
During this Lenten season as I seek to reflect on the love sacrifice on the cross for my disobedience, I most desire to hear Him and grow in my relationship with Him. I want to listen carefully, but out of love for Him I want to act and respond to what I hear.
Listening is not enough.