I realize that I often don’t listen to others with much attention. I’m usually organizing what I am going to say or do next and not really listening to what someone is saying to me. I don’t think it is because I really am not interested in what they are saying but that my ministry always has me focused on what comes next on my agenda, not yours. It happens in prayer, too.
I’m talking a lot in my prayer life. No, I’m talking a lot about me in my prayer life, others, too. I’m asking Our Lord to attend to the needs of those who have asked me to pray for them. But, still, there isn’t much room for Our Lord’s voice.
Maybe, the same thing happens to you.
He speaks in the silence of my heart. He speaks when someone reaches out to touch my life with a word that cuts me to the soul or flashes in my heart. He speaks in His holy word (see above). That is, when I am listening.
I remember being taught the practise of “active listening” where you repeat what someone has just told you in such a way that they are sure that you understand them. Or, you simply reflect a person as you see him/her. This demands incredible patience and it takes time, but it gets to the truth. Example:
It’s dark ouside when the rectory doorbell rings at 7:30 pm. On opening the door I see a boy of about seven years old standing by himself, downcast. “Father, I left my homework in my desk. Would you open the school so I can get it?” His words are slow and somber.
I am not happy with this. I want to say: “Why didn’t you remember to bring it home? Now, I have to go and open the school just because you didn’t do what you were supposed to do.”
Instead, somehow — it was amazing grace, I’m sure — I said a simple statement to him: “You look sad.” He grabbed hold of me and began sobbing. I had to sit down with him. He would not let me go. For what seemed like an eternity, he wept. He tried to tell me what was wrong. He finally choked out: “My –Father–hates–me.”
“Your Father hates you,” I said. “Yes, he thinks I’m stupid. He loves my brother more than me.” The words came slowly, shaken out, measured.
He continued to cry until I felt he was ready to go over to the school.
I can still see him carrying a book and some papers over to the car where a man in the driver’s seat sat in the dark with the engine running.
I wanted to go over and tell the man what he was doing to his son. I wanted to beat the cxxp out of him. But, I was afraid the son would be punished further by his father, if I said anything. I hope my listening to the boy was a comfort to him but in no way could I take the place of his father.
In this case, I wasn’t listening much to his words but taking notice of his demeanor. He was communicating saddness but I would never have known that he ached for acceptance by his father unless I had told him that I saw he was sad. To the boy, it indicated that I was willing to hear more.
He called me “Father,” though, and maybe on a day when my heart listened, I was able to provide some comfort to a child because I listened.
I need a softer heart. I need to listen more.