By Kathy Joy, author of Will You Hold My Story? a Picture Book
Listening is a verb. I looked it up. If you need a quick reminder, a verb is “a word expressing action,” according to Webster’s.
Hmmmm. “Action” suggests movement, flow, shifting, adjusting. If anything, listening seems passive, fixed, static.
We moms know a little about the action of listening. I am a mom, but I still need my mom to listen over the dining room table.
When you really think about it, listening takes a certain skill set. It involves intentionally hitting the “Pause Button” of your day and entering into another person’s story. And their story matters. Your choice to listen to it is an action of love toward them.
There’s a cute story I heard once, about a little boy who wanted desperately for his Mommy to know everything about his day. The lad burst into the kitchen where she was prepping the evening meal. As he told his fabulous story, she continued dicing, slicing and sauteing. I’m sure she heard every word; we moms are professional multi-taskers.
Still, that wasn’t enough for the boy. He became exasperated. “Mom!” he cried out. “You’re not listening!
“Oh, yes, honey. I’m listening,” she replied.
“No! I need you to listen with your eyes.”
Wow. The kid has a point. Listening, if it’s truly an action word, involves putting down the spatula and locking eyes with the storyteller.
Listening is something we think we are doing, when in fact we are pushing the storyteller to the margins; hearing him on the periphery. We think we’ve heard the story, but oh! How much we miss.
I am guilty as charged. Countless times, I have “listened” to the ones I love while checking my phone, scanning the menu, watching the weather channel and searching for my car keys. Is this listening? Really?! No, actually, not.
I’m practicing hitting the “Pause Button”
I’m practicing hitting the “pause button” but I’m not as successful as I’d like to be.
This happened recently when my daughter tried to convey something to me in the car.
Distracted listening is not intentionally loving. It’s minimizing. The storyteller can’t be sure your mind, much less, your heart was open to retaining the information. We are telling that precious soul we are taking in words, but not absorbing the weight and importance of the words.
How likely will this lovely daughter, this marvelous human being, come back to me with new stories to tell? The odds are getting slimmer.
I need to hit the Pause Button, silence the phone, pull the car to the curb, and just listen.
Now, before you think you are already well-versed in the art of listening, I have a simple challenge: try listening with no agenda. Go ahead. Try. It’s really hard. Honestly — I sat with a friend recently. As she shared her story, pouring out her heart, I could hardly wait to find an opening and tell my own story.
This is really not okay. Because, in that place where my brain was buzzing with the answers, the opinions, the questions and my own stories, I was missing her words. And they weren’t just words; they were pieces of her heart, laid out there on the table — bare and trembling and aching to be heard.
To march in with my pat answers is a lot like pushing her stuff to the edges because my stuff is far more interesting.
That’s kind of rude.
Listening is love
Listening is love. It’s an act of the will, an intentional nod in another person’s direction. When you love the storyteller, you need to be willing to listen without formulating your answers. That person really doesn’t need your opinion; she needs your humility and grace. She needs your ear and your uncluttered mind. She needs you to lock eyes with her, so she knows without a doubt you care.
This is exhausting. No wonder listening is a verb — the action of truly listening is a workout. Your listening-muscles will ache later, but keep at it. You just never know when a storyteller needs you to be ready.
Listening is love. Just ask my mom – she’s really good at it. I’m quite sure that’s why I carry all my most precious stories to her kitchen table. She pours tea. She sits across from me and gives me the gift of her undivided attention.
Thanks, Mom! Thanks for listening with your eyes.
Kathy Joy is the author of the children’s book, Will You Hold My Story? When her husband died suddenly, she had no one to listen to her grief and so she hired a counselor. Sally, the grief counselor, wisely advised Kathy to find someone else to hold her story alongside her. But sometimes people can be so distracted by their activities and their own families, that God decided to create pets. Dogs are especially suited for cuddling, and walking beside you, and listening to your story. Listening moms and friends are absolute treasures.