Hearing vs. Listening

I love children and have been privileged over the years to watch my young cousins grow from young 6 and 7 year olds to teenagers’ right under my nose.  Not only have they become teenagers, they have grown to just become my little friends who happen to call me ‘auntie’. They check me and trust me; they know a lot more than they let on so we have wide and varied conversations on everything which I thoroughly enjoy. Well, today’s post is inspired by them. Love you girls.

Recently, they had been complaining to me that I tend not to listen when they are speaking with me. Not one, not two, but all three of them at different times had subtly and expressly complained about me not listening and I admit that I am guilty. Most of the time, I actually started out listening, but that depreciated to ‘hearing’ them talk whilst I got distracted by another conversation. All the while, I thought I was ready to dive right back into the conversation but the truth is that I was not listening and did not even notice when they stopped talking altogether. A number of times, they actually started leaving the room when they noticed I had stopped listening. I ended up apologizing but I had broken the flow of the conversation already.

Do you ever get the feeling that people are hearing the words coming out of your mouth but they aren’t really listening to you? Have you ever ordered something and had the waiter serve you something that was exact opposite. Perhaps you ordered a drink with no ice and you got a drink with two spoonfuls of ice right in front of you. Was it that the waiter was uninterested in your order? Probably not. He just assumed, and that wrongly. Now, was it because I did not want to listen to what my girls had to say? No! But I had just not decided to listen because if I had, everything else would be secondary. Isn’t it funny that many times, a virtual chat had my attention whilst my body was right there amidst the conversation with my cousins? So they had my presence and my hearing but my attention and my listening was locked in elsewhere. Hmm…

After that feedback from my cousins, well for the record, my sister had complained about it as well, as I can see her reading this and saying to me, ‘I told you’ , I started to think about it and resolved to do something about it. And the more I dwelt on it, the more I realized it was more than just to do with managing conversations, it had to do with me. How many times had I ‘heard’ God speak to me in church or through some individual but yet not truly ‘listened’ so much so that I probably just frustrated God like I did my cousins? How many times was my body physically in church when my mind was busy listening to some distractive thought of what to have for lunch or some task to be done afterwards?

Is it plausible that all those times I complained that God wasn’t speaking; It simply was because I had lost the ability to listen. Listening is a lot deeper than hearing, and that’s been resonating in my mind all day. How do I listen?

According to Don Andersson “Most of us have been gifted with the ability to hear, but few of us have taken hearing and refined it into the art of listening. “We tend to be defensive when we hear. Most of the time we’re expecting people to say things that fit into our categories so we’re really not as open to hearing what they’re saying as we could be.” Many times, too, as soon as the other person starts speaking, we’re busy preparing our answer before they even have 10 words out of their mouth. “Part of the time when we listen we hear a few words and we jump into the editing room of our mind to prepare an answer before we have paid attention to everything they’re saying,” Andersson says. “Before they’re done, we respond and we’re not responding on target.” We’re such a microwave, drive-thru, high-speed society these days; we’re rush-rush-rush, even when it comes to the art of conversation

After reading that, now, I am consciously checking myself to see if I get the urge to jump in before the other person is through. Guess what, he was totally right! And this is not only in my interactions with people; it has also affected my interaction with God. Many times, I am not listening so I miss out on simple instructions. Other times, I am one step ahead, thinking how and why that scripture may not refer to me or analyzing a simple instruction. Just like I have shut my cousins out of conversations with me because I was not listening, when God is speaking, what is my posture? Am I physically present with my mind switched out? Am I worshipping with my hands lifted, whilst my mind is searching through my wardrobe for the outfit for Monday morning?

Am I busy finishing the preacher’s scripture quotations, so that I cannot even ‘listen’ to the sermon? Am I quietly glad that I was right so that I leave the service the same way I came in but with a few secret medals for correctly completing the quotations but with no new revelation? I want to ‘hear’ and experience people and for that I need to ‘listen’. I need to experience God and so I need to hear from Him.  I need to ‘listen’ to God speak to me so I don’t feel like He’s not speaking when my problem is the distractions that surround me. I need to cut down on my clutter and all the virtual  secondary conversations so I can face God and actually listen to Him. that conversation is the primary conversation!!!. I am learning that God does not want part of my attention, He wants all my attention and He does not give me any advance notice when He wants to speak so my ability to maintain certain quietness about my spirit is key.

Have I driven God far away from me by my bad listening attitude? What is it going to take to make me not just a hearer but a ‘listener’ so I can do?

Image Credit: http://bit.ly/13Ae5We



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  1. My first time on this site.

    Very insightful post. I am totally guilty of this in my interactions with God, my kids, my husband and the larger family (comprising of friends, extended family and colleagues).

    Getting out of this habit requires conscious effort.

    1. Hi Abiola, thank you so much for stopping by. Yes, I agree that it requires conscious steps to become a listener rather than a hearer and by God’s grace, I am taking those steps now, slowly and steadily. I trust God for grace for you too…We should exchange progress notes soon. Do stop by again and again. God bless you!

  2. WoW!

    Eloho (Mi Mi Re). This is a deluge for sure. I agree with you completely on all fronts. May God continually increase your wisdom (the ability to know the difference). I am very guilty of this charge (hearing but not listening). What I always do is almost pinch myself to LISTEN. The greatest joy in listening is not just listening to what is being said but to what is unsaid. Again, thanks for this. I pray that God will give us a listening ear and a willing heart.

    1. AMEN!!! Thanks Femi (FFG) for your refreshing comment. Truly, may God give us all the grace to not only seek to be better listeners but to consciously imbibe habits that support our decision to pay attention and actually listen so that we move from desiring to being.

  3. Honestly, That example of sitting in church and responding at the right time but being in another place in my mind is very real. Lord have mercy! Way too much clutter!

    1. Thanks Sarah, glad this resonated with you too. God help us to truly let go of the clutter so we can effectively listen. Our minds can be so bothered about many things in the typical Martha way, when like Mary we can choose that ‘one thing’. Thanks for always being here!!!

  4. I’m guilty of this. Sometimes I’m caught up trying to reason out scriptures myself instead of actually “listening” to the message God is passing across to me. you write beautifully.I’ve been trying to get your attention on twitter to no avail.

    1. Hi Uchechi, Thank you for stopping by, glad to have you.
      I know that guilty place of reasoning out scriptures instead of listening. God has been helping me listen better though and I trust that He will help you too. Thanks for the lovely compliment.
      At trying to get my attention on twitter, wow! i apologise for not noticing earlier. Forgive me. What’s your handle? Lemme try and make amends.

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