This is part three in a series about my friend and fellow pilgrim, Tom. In the previous columns, Tom shared his insights about humility and patience. It amazes me to see Tom, though paralyzed from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, still in pursuit of God and his will. Tom is the incarnation of the Apostle Paul’s words, “We are hard pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-18)
I visited Tom today, and as usual, I asked him if God was showing him anything new and Tom replied, “He’s shown me I have a long way to go and a short time to get there. He’s been showing me that I need to be a better listener. I feel convicted about it.” He commented on the moderator of a Christian television talk show, about what a “good listener” the moderator was. Tom explained, “His guest talked about Jerusalem being the ‘fig tree’ referred to in Bible prophesies. He asked him to show him where in the Bible that it specifically says so. He never interrupted the fellow except to tie what he said to the Bible or to clarify something.” Tom concluded, “There aren’t very many good listeners. Most people are thinking about what they’re going to say next instead of really listening to you.”
As I listened to Tom, I realized that he was describing something beyond just hearing. He was talking about being a discriminating listener, about leading every word captive, listening with the intent of understanding. Tom pointed out how many of us accept what other’s say without question. “People will believe anything they want to hear or see,” he added “There are a lot of people who just listen to the preacher without studying it themselves.
“The fellow who wrote the song about Noah’s Ark said the animals entered by twos. But the Bible doesn’t say that. The unclean animals entered by twos, but the clean animals entered by sevens because they were used for sacrifices and food for Noah’s family. And people talk about the streets of gold but the Bible refers to the street of gold. There is only one street. You can check it out.” So I did and found that Tom was right. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve read that story about Noah’s Ark several times and have even spread the propaganda about the animals entering by twos. The old truism is true isn’t it, “Familiarity breeds contempt” and preconceived ideas can blind us too.
Unfortunately and naturally, we often pretend to listen, half-listen or just don’t listen at all. Why? Scott Peck in his book, “The Road Less Traveled” postulated, “The principal form that the work of love takes is attention. When we love another we give him or her our attention. The act of attending requires that we make the effort to set aside our existing preoccupations and actively shift our consciousness. Listening well is an exercise of attention and by necessity hard work. It is because they are not willing to do the work that most people do not listen well.”
I’ve often thought about the words of Jesus to his disciples and how they apply to actively listening and attending, “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) In order to truly follow someone even in a conversation, you have to deny yourself, you have to set yourself aside and take up the challenge of truly understanding. So what do you say? Why don’t we join Tom in his quest to be a better listener? Let’s strive to be men of understanding.
“A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, but a man of understanding draws it out.” (Proverbs 20:5)
Loren Hardin is a social worker with Southern Ohio Medical Center – Hospice and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 740-356-2525.