Sunday, November 8, 2015

Lessons on Learning to Listen

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I hate to admit it but I have a tendency to interrupt. And that's the nice way to put it.
It would be better said, more honest, to say I am inclined to be talking with someone, hearing their words, but my brain is whirling around with what I want to say back, and I quit really hearing them, but don't interrupt. I wait, but I'm not really listening. Or I quit waiting and butt right in and speak over them.

My parents raised me with, 'don't interrupt your elders.' That was back in the 'children should be seen but not heard' era, and daring to do otherwise bought you a free ticket to your bedroom for the rest of the evening, likely with your backside burning. The truth, though, is it should go for everyone, whether they are two years old, taking forever and a day to tell a story, or 82 and having trouble finding words; it's true whether the one speaking is happy or upset with me; whether my experience that is similar to the one they are sharing trumps theirs in my eyes. Maybe especially then because nobody wants to have their heartfelt story trumped.

The hard, hard truth is that anytime I interrupt someone I quit listening long before my words ran over theirs. I had to stop listening to them, form my own words in my brain and then spit them out. It is impossible to listen and speak at the same time. Impossible. I know because I do it way more often than I like to admit.

Now I'll state here that there's a girl way of conversation that we all know - where the conversation is flowing in a room full of women and we talk all over each other, but we're still listening, sort of, mostly. That isn't what I'm talking about and any woman reading this will know the difference.

I'm talking about when it's just me and one other person, and I'm hearing their words, their voice making sound waves that hit my ears but not my heart;  not really engaging in them; not setting aside thoughts of how I'll respond, not really listening. Or worse I hear, listen until my own thoughts take over and I butt in.

It easily becomes a habit, and , like most self-serving habits, it's a hard one to break. I've realized it doesn't get broken by vowing, by saying I won't. It gets broken by honoring the person I'm talking with, and that honoring brings a heart that truly listens to their every word til they stop and wait to hear - to listen - to what I have to say.

I just finished reading Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon. So, so, so wonderful. I devoured it in less than three days, stayed up too late, laughed out loud, and found myself reading while quiet tears blurred my vision and ran down my face over the tender words on the pages. If you're a JK fan (I'm beyond that, I got to meet her last year and she's SO wonderful!), you know this book is about Dooley and Lace finally tying the knot. And of course Father Tim presided over the ceremony. In his words to the fictional couple he charged them with fulfilling their vows by following Romans 12;10 using the word 'outdo'.
 'Outdo one another in showing honor.' 'What outdo does not mean is a competition in which one person wins the game and the other loses. To outdo one another means you both win.... It is our job to generously outdo, no matter what, and discover that the prize in this contest of generosity is more love.... two outdoers in a circle, If only one is outdoing, that one will soon be done in.'
And here's the beautiful brilliance of Jan Karon's words, as the story continues with Father Tim speaking to the couple, but it could be to me:
'I believe many of us simply do.... I'll close with a very specific way to help you live out the principle of outdoing. This is the key to opening hearts, a gentle pathway to cherishing. Listen. Listening is among the most generous of ways to give. When a loved one talks to us - whether their words appear to be deep or shallow - listen. For in some way, they are baring their souls.... Listen... and you will cherish and be cherished. 
If listening conveys cherishing, I am ashamed to think of what my interrupting says, to that person who was talking to me when I butted in and told them, by my actions, that their words did not matter to me as much as being heard did.

If  you want a great story read Come Rain or Come Shine. You'll find a great yarn, beautifully woven around characters you can't help but love, but you'll also find some mighty good preaching thrown in on more pages than not.

This week, starting with today, I will not vow to not interrupt. Rather, I will vow to cherish more those who come into my path, whether it's my family tree - ranging from 1 1/2 to 90 1/2, the people who come in and out of my life, including the grouchy clerk, the sales call during dinner, or anything in between. If I can change my vision of how to cherish people I should have this verse licked:
But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.
James 1:19
I'm determined to really work at this, not stopping the habit of interrupting, but rather at changing how I see people, so that my behavior changes itself. How about you? Do you have a problem with this? Am I the only one who feels like our society has become so busy, so rushed, that even in conversations we rush over each other. Interrupting is just what we do.
Or do you tend to be the quiet listener? Have you experienced others interrupting you and how did it affect you? Let's talk. I need to hear what you have to say, and I'm all ears.

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