Learning to listen

Pastoral Messages | June 11, 2020

A few months ago, my wife and I were sitting on the floor, surrounded by a mound of toys, playing with our 2-year-old nephew. We loved listening to his infectious laugh, marveled at his well-developed vocabulary, and were gradually exhausted as he ran circles around us.

As we played, I noticed something that’s probably not unique to this one toddler. When we talked to him about John Deere tractors or Paw Patrol or farm animals… he was all ears. But when we talked with him about things he wasn’t so interested in—like cleaning up his pile of green tractors or getting ready for bath time—suddenly he was less engaged.

He would do one of two things. Either he wouldn’t even acknowledge what we said… as though he stopped listening completely until a topic came along that was more interesting to him. Or, he’d make more noise. Talking over us. Thinking if he was louder than the other voices, then bedtime just wouldn’t happen.

I’m well aware this is pretty typical behavior for a young child. Much of their early development is cultivating language and conversational skills—and along with that the ability to listen. But in that moment, I couldn’t help thinking that Joey’s listening skills weren’t far off from those of many adults at times (myself included).

Every person likes to think of themselves as a good listener. No one wants to be characterized as self-interested or oblivious to the needs or concerns of others. But, like Joey, so often we choose to ignore or talk over the very voices we most need to listen to. Especially those who are different than us.

If you take a quick glance through scripture, it should be no surprise that Jesus was an expert listener. Sitting beside the woman at the well, different than him in every way possible, his instinct was to move closer, ask questions, learn more. Jesus was often asking the disciples, “What do you think?” or “Who do you say that I am?” or inquiring about their perspective before sharing his own.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the weeks of world-wide protests that have now followed, one thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I simply have to become a better listener. As a white American, I have to listen to the anguish and struggle of my black sisters and brothers, even if it would be easier to use my privilege to ignore it altogether.

As a person of faith, I need to follow Christ’s example in continuing to try to understand perspectives and experiences that are quite different than my own. Or when I’m tempted to talk over others, because what I’m hearing challenges or overwhelms me, maybe one of the best things I can do is lean in to listen closer to those whose voices too often go unheard.

I’m confident we all can learn to be better listeners than a two-year-old. We can be quick to listen and slow to speak. We can actually want to hear other perspectives that challenge our own understandings. And, in the process, we’ll discover a much richer world around us.

-Katy Warren, associate pastor


10 Comments on “Learning to listen”

  • Rob Pearson

    June 11, 2020 at 7:27 pm

    Circle the bases Katy!

  • Marta Lucas

    June 11, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    Thank you Katy! As an African American Sister listening is an essential benefit of my life. I went through the Civil Rights era of the 70’s as a student in Iowa City. Many a time we sat around in circles on campus talking and listening. I learned to comprehend the words and thoughts of others. I Pray everyday “All Lives Matter” this is what all races need to remember and live by…..Amen and Amen.

  • Sheila Mesick

    June 11, 2020 at 5:18 pm

    Right now there’s so much being said that people do not want to listen to or hear. For me personally if there was ever a time to take on the spirit of Christ, it is now. I have never been a fan of the bracelet quote that bears “what would Jesus do”. Events can change perspectives pulling one’s view into better focus. Listen, hear, and ponder – what would Jesus do?

  • lynette price

    June 11, 2020 at 4:59 pm

    It is so nice to hear from all of you. Hope we can all get together soon,

  • Diana Cook

    June 11, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    Amen, well said. I think most of us like to share more than listen. I’ll work on that

  • Carol Seitz

    June 11, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    Your point is well taken! Thanks for the reminder. Hearing in and of itself is a real challenge but I continue to try.

  • Marcia Willi

    June 11, 2020 at 2:46 pm

    Ah…listening…one of the most difficult things for me to do( sadly).I believe I will try that little ” trick” of yours, leaning in. After all, it engages you in the conversation w/ the other person. Thanks Katy..

  • Victoria Felger

    June 11, 2020 at 1:55 pm

    As always, perfect timing with words of wisdom, Katy!

  • Cal Werner

    June 11, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    Well spoken. We all need to improve our listening skills.

  • Allyson Miller

    June 11, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    Love this. What a great thing to read this week, will be sharing!

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