In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes that most people do not converse with others with the intention of actually hearing and understanding them. Rather, they formulate in their own minds what they are going to say next.
When I considered Covey’s message the other day, it hit close to home. How many times have I failed to truly listen or to understand? The honest answer: plenty. In many conversations, as soon as the other guy takes a breath, I’m ready to chime in with my own thoughts which I deem so important, so wise, so necessary. Sometimes, I don’t even wait for the other poor guy to take a breath or finish his own statement. I just interrupt.
A few days after I pondered Covey’s thought, I went to a party and began a conversation with a friend about the new Star Wars movie. I caught myself again formulating my response even before she had finished speaking. Embarrassed, I made an effort to concentrate on her and tried to understand her.
I walked away thinking that it had been one of the best conversations I had all year—not because I had said something witty, but because I hadn’t. I truly listened instead, and even communicated by listening. Somewhere in the course of that conversation, I came to more fully appreciate that listening is a response. And most of the time, it’s the best one of all.
Similarly, it’s worth considering how much God listens. People often make fun of us Christians for speaking to God. How many of us have told a non-believing friend or colleague that we spent an hour in the Eucharistic chapel praying, only to hear the sarcastic response: “Does He talk back?”
God responds, indeed, often in a gentle breeze or a whisper. But in the course of our talking, God does something better than talk back: He listens. Indeed, He already knows our thoughts, yet He still wants us to come to Him in trust, and open our hearts to Him. The problem is, we don’t listen to Him enough, either. As Cardinal Sarah recently explained in The Power of Silence: “Our world no longer hears God because it is constantly speaking, at a devastating speed and volume, in order to say nothing.”
We might lament the chaotic clamor of the world, but in the battle for silent contemplation, there is often nothing more disruptive than our selves. And there is no bigger obstacle to real human communication than our own chatter.
We all need to be listened to and understood. Beyond that, these immortal creatures who are infinitely loved by God deserve to be heard and understood. Sadly, too few people are listening. Lest you doubt this, just log in to your social media accounts for 30 seconds.
In a world of selfies, where everyone is frantic to be seen and heard, very few are seen and heard. They might show and tell, but they are not seen and heard. And there’s a world of difference between the two.
We have all experienced this to some degree. In conversations with our co-workers, our spouses, our parents and our children, we have all asked: Why don’t they listen to me? It might be a fair question, but it’s also fair to ask the same one of ourselves: Why don’t I listen to them? We need to get better at this. As Christians, we must always remember that we represent God, the One who listens and loves perfectly, to the world.
And so, for the year 2018, my resolution is to be a better listener. More than that, to master the art of listening. And above all, to become better at understanding others. Please pray for me that I’m successful.
And thanks for listening.