The golfer sliced a ball into a field of chickens, striking one of the hens and killing it instantly. He was understandably upset and sought out the farmer. “I’m sorry,” he said, “my terrible tee-shot hit one of your hens and killed it. Can I replace the hen?”
“I don’t know about that,” replied the farmer, mulling it over. “How many eggs a day do you lay?”
Hopefully, that joke has caused you to chuckle at least a bit, especially if you are either a golfer or a farmer. But my thoughts today are centered on neither one of those subjects but on the topic of conversation.
My brother and I are learning the fine art of conversation. For the first time in our adult lives, we are living within “shouting distance” of each other. He is just five minutes away, by either automobile or golf cart. And we talk more than we ever have in our lives. But we are having to learn, or re-learn, the fine art of conversation. For you see, he is an engineer and I am a pastor. Because of our given callings, our method of conversation is different. He, being very detail-oriented, is often frustrated by my general reference to “stuff.” And I, being very person-centered in my outlook, find myself bored to tears by his insistence on explaining everything to the nth detail.
One principle I am learning is one I have known and attempted to practice for years: Quality conversation requires – even demands – active listening. One does not have to read too far into the biblical account of the trials of Job. By the time you reach chapter 13 in this book, you see that the suffering Job becomes increasingly frustrated with his three would-be comforters. Each time they respond, it becomes clear to Job that they really do not fully comprehend what he is saying. He finally erupts with, “Listen closely to what I am about to say. Hear me out.” (Job 13:17).
Author Brian Doyle was reflecting upon a time in his distant past history when he found himself in Rome, Italy wandering through the streets on foot. He was walking down a back alley in one section of the city when he came upon a woman who, in his estimation, appeared to be “500 years old.” The woman stared at him, grinned and said quietly, “Cosa c’e?” Brian didn’t know what it meant, so he stopped, thinking that maybe she needed assistance. “Cosa c’e?” she said again, very gently.
“No Italian,” he said, smiling, but feeling stupid. Her face was so attentive and solicitous, though, that for at least 20 minutes if not more, Doyle poured out his thoughts in his own language,about his life — his muddled love life and dull job and bleak prospects. All the time she was gazing up at him with the sweetest care as if he were her own son.
Finally he finished, feeling silly to have unburdened himself so, and she reached up, patted his face, and said tenderly, “Stai zitto.”
Doyle commented about that meeting: “For a long time, I thought she’d granted me benediction of some kind, offered some subtle prayer in her language, until a friend told me recently that Cosa c’e means ‘What’s the matter?’ and Stai zitto means ‘You’re crazy.’ But maybe I’m a little wiser now that I’m ancient, because I believe with all my heart that she did grant me an extraordinary blessing that hot day in the alley near Via Caterina. She listened, she paid attention, she was wholly present as I opened a door in myself.”
That elderly lady demonstrated one of the greatest gifts we can give to each other, the gift of listening with all our might.
Gary Chapman, a noted counselor and author of several books on marriage, admits to using the language of marriage when he writes. But his counsel is good and positive no matter what the context. He offers several suggestions on how to listen effectively:
· Maintain eye contact when your spouse is talking. This keeps your mind from wandering and communicates that your spouse has your full attention.
· Drop all other activities when your spouse is talking. I know that it may be possible for you to watch TV and listen to your spouse at the same time, but the message your spouse is getting is that what he is saying is not very important.
· Listen for feelings and reflect what you hear. “It sounds like you’re feeling disappointed because I forgot to take the garbage out this morning.” Now your spouse knows that you are listening and she can go on to clarify her feelings and desires.
· Observe body language. Clenched fists, trembling hands, and tears may give you insight into how strongly your spouse feels about what he or she is saying. The stronger the feeling the more important it is that you give your spouse your undivided attention.
Repeatedly, our Lord made the challenge to each of us that, “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear” and “Take care what you listen to.” (Mark 4:23-24). Now granted, those challenges were talking more about what we listen to than how we listen, but for sure the need was there to listen carefully.
My brother and I are each learning about the need to listen to each other more carefully. If the need to listen to each other is so great in order to enhance our communication, how much more important is listening to God? The major way God speaks to us is through His Word, so you and I need to consistently be listening to Him through the reading and study of the Scriptures. How is your hearing today?
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]