Updated: Mar 9, 2020
My lifelong struggle to shut up long enough to hear.
Spend five minutes with me and you'll know I'm a talker. I use 400 words to say what can be said in 10, often going off on random philosophical tangents. Until recently, I think I often missed it when listener's eyes glassed over or they started to nod. Denial? Grace? Probably both. My family and friends smile and speed me up. Or get irritated. Sometimes, they will listen with interest, cuz sometimes, I'm saying something interesting.
I talk in ideal blog length.
I'll defend myself by saying that sesquipedalian loquaciousness has its place 😉. Blogging! Experts report that, depending on the purpose, as many as 1900 words is the ideal blog post length to maximize SEO. Google it. It's true! Heavenly. That's why I'm gonna start blogging more. I can go on and on about my musings shamelessly. Very gratifying and therapeutic. But I digress. I actually want to TALK (write) about listening, not talking.
Listening is hard.
For us talkers, listening can be a problem. And I find, if I'm not actively listening, I'm not hearing. What's the dif? Well, here's what Merriam-Webster says:
"Listen: To give one's attention to a sound; take notice of and act on what someone says; make an effort to hear something; be alert and ready to hear something.
Hear: perceive with the ear the sound made by (someone or something); be told or informed of; be aware of; know of the existence of."
Listening is more about deliberately tuning in. Hearing is about actually perceiving what's said. Then there's understanding what we hear. That's how I read it anyway.
If you're speaking, it's hard to listen and in turn, to hear. Well, duh. Likewise, I find anyway, if you're busy doing, it's difficult to be still. I could stop now to find a a few Bible references to back this up, but then this will never get posted and you probably know them anyway (Be still...., Martha, Martha..., God's whisper...Speak..., etc.).
Being loud doesn't help.
Talking a lot is amplified by talking loud. I'm noisy. Hearing God above the din of my volume, inside and out, is difficult. The raucous and sometimes brutal committee in my head has long drowned out the loving, wise murmur of God.
I'm not the only one who's "hard of hearing."
Actually, that last one, 1 Samuel 3:10, is what has been on my mind. God was hollering at Samuel, trying to get his attention and Samuel heard him, but wasn't understanding that it was God speaking. Finally, the elder mentor Eli tells Samuel to lie down and say, "Speak, LORD, your servant is listening."
It's only then, when Samuel was still, attentive, receptive and quiet, that he heard God speak.
Listening is intentional.
Then, there's that other telling passage in 1 Kings 19. God showed up for a distressed Elijah not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in a whisper. Have you ever really wanted to hear something or someone very quiet and found yourself intentionally straining to hear?
There's an elderly, terminally ill man in a group I attend who is endearing, witty and wise and says endearing, witty, wise things in a very gentle whisper. When possible, I strain to listen and to hear what he has to say. Because I want to fully understand.
Selah. Let's just sit with that for a minute.
Because of my tendency to talk and do, I seldom tune in like that to the GOD of the Universe, who truly has all the answers! What's my problem? I mean, seriously, with all I have going on in my life that is so beyond my pay grade, why would I not open a parentheses in my day to tune in to GOD 101.7, the ultimate call-in authority, better than Click and Clack, Dr. Laura and Dave Ramsey combined.
Good thing God is merciful and gracious. Like he did with Samuel, he calls out again and again to get my attention, and kindly sends friends as little messengers.
Being a willing student.
I find God deals with me in themes. Long lesson plans on a particular topic. Invitations to stillness, rest and listening, in that order, have been major themes for a long while. I have not been an easy case. Ever.
Lesson 1.A. on the syllabus: Stillness and rest. I've made great headway. It's not been linear or entirely progressive. Some "one step forwards, two step backs." There have been meandering detours, but I am soooooooo much better at being still, present and restfully peaceful no matter what's going on. I love it. It's like a superpower. And like all superpowers, endowed from beyond (Phil 4:7-9, John 14:7, +++) and the result of being clobbered into submission than wise obedience. At least for me.
Relevant sidebar: Mary Barra, 21st century wise woman.
Little sidebar on the subject...One of my longtime inspirations for this superpower is Mary Barra, first female CEO & Chairwoman of General Motors. I first saw her interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning, where she described her 35-year ascent from 18 year-old intern. Soon after she took the helm at GM, she faced the catastrophic recalls of several models, with flaws that were eventually linked to nearly 100 deaths and 163 injuries.
During the interview, Mary was calm yet not passive, concerned but not defensive, authoritative yet humble. Her tone was gentle. In general, she conveyed great wisdom, balance and peace.
Even though I have no ambitions to be a CEO of a massive enterprise, I wanted what she had and have thought of her often during my arduous coursework. Mary seems to have stillness and peace. And while didn't say it specifically, I'll bet she's also learned to listen. To listen to various others, to listen to herself, and to listen to the still small voice that guides her conscience and actions.
Progress, not perfection.
Yet, for me, the silent listening...Well, it's (I'm) a work in progress. Little gains here and there. I was maybe busy congratulating myself on improved stillness, or at least coasting a little in a contented lull, not overly anxious to JUST SHUT UP.
God is merciful and gracious.
Doing it the hard way. Please. Learn from my mistakes.
Over a year ago, I got that crazy upper respiratory virus that came and went and came again. Twice.
For me, it also manifested with laryngitis, which I've gotten at least twice a year for a long time.
Duh. A shot across the bow. How dense can a gal be?
It took me a really long time to get better, and even then, I remained slightly hoarse with that strained unpleasant feeling that would cue a smart person to SHUT UP. Finally Googling persistent hoarseness, I was a truly troubled by the prospect of permanently damaging my voice, especially for singing. Mind you, Mariah Carey need not worry, but singing is SO important to me...for prayer, worship and pure pleasure. I was downright scared.
This conveniently coincided with my church's annual, church-wide fast. How handy. So I added it to my fasting intentions. Even so, hard case that I am, I struggled to stay quiet. The hoarseness remained.
Back to the ENT. Diagnosis: Vocal nodules, AKA singer, teacher and screamer's voice, AKA vocal abuse!
So often, it does take extreme measures to reach me. Comically tragic.
(But in characteristic God fashion, my hard-head is also a blessing cuz I was referred for vocal therapy. I always wanted voice lessons but it seemed like an extravagance. Now, Blue Cross was footing the bill.)
You would not believe the extreme TLC I'm having to administer to myself to restore my voice and address unhelpful speech habits. Including A LOT OF SILENCE. No singing, no screaming, no cheering at my kid's games and a host of exercises and massage. This is what it's come to for me. Given what's at stake, I'm being pretty darned compliant.
Decidedly Type A, complying means I've had to be very mindful, very in the moment, very aware. And it's producing results.
Physically, my voice is clearer and I don't feel a strain. I'm speaking more softly, texting my kids from downstairs rather than hollering, getting close and making eye contact to talk.
The exercises require that I breath deeply, tune into my body and out of my head.
And the essential combination of slowing down, breathing, and being quiet has even quieted my mind, enabling me to listen. To hear.
I'm finally hearing the still small voice that couldn't rise above the din. I'm listening attentively to what that voice is telling me. And I'm getting revolutionary results you are sure to read about in future posts.
I had to ask myself, if I intellectually value what God has to say and I've read the "syllabus," why can't I just sit still and listen? Am I afraid of what I'll hear? In my own heart? In God's whisper? The answer is YES, all of the above.
Yet, there's no reproach in the voice I'm hearing. God's timing, unlike mine, is perfect. I've had fleeting moments of regret of not listening sooner, but then I'm kindly reminded that time takes time. I know I simply wasn't ready yet. So, I kept busy and noisy enough to drown out God's gentle voice.
I'm ready now.
Speak God, I'm (finally) listening.
Now that I've savored the benefits of listening, I desperately WANT and NEED to hear what God is whispering. My way, my methods have failed me. At a crossroads in my life, I don't want to waste another second hollering over God.
He is, after all, God, and knows far better what's good for me.
Stay tuned for updates on this new chapter, narrated by a smarter and gentler voice.
God, help me to listen. Help me to hear.
Remember: God loves you (and me) no matter what.