Listening is a learned skill. We grow up thinking because we have ears we were born with the ability, but there is a distinct difference between listening and hearing.
According to Webster’s dictionary hearing is “the process of perceiving sound,” while listening is, “to hear something with thoughtful attention.”
Usually, when we think we’re listening to someone, we’re actually hearing what we want to hear and planning our response before the other person has finished expressing themselves. I can’t count how many times Mike and I have gotten into an argument because one of us “heard” something that wasn’t actually said. James 1:19 reads, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” yet I often find myself in reverse of this instruction, slow to listen and quick to speak and to become angry. I also usually behave this way with people who think differently than me, assuming I know everything they think before they say it and that it’s my job to lecture them into my way of thinking. I even used to bring Jesus’s name into it, until I had a friend once tell me, “You’re not doing Jesus any favors by shouting His name as you’re arguing your point.” That made me pause. Didn’t Jesus wash His disciples filthy, mud-covered feet? Was he arguing His point as he washed them? Nope. And didn’t He spend an entire chapter in Matthew warning of hardened religious pride? His words are clear,
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:12
I have found the more I feel compelled to speak is exactly the best time to keep my mouth shut. This takes a considerable amount of control because I have an usually large mouth. My dad lovingly called me ‘motor mouth.’ Listening takes humility, an open mind and heart, and genuine affection for the person who is speaking. If Jesus is my example, I should practice listening with every person I meet, for it may be the only opportunity I have to show His love. How many times have I squandered moments like this just to drive home my own passionate agenda, which ironically always falls on deaf ears. Why should I expect anyone to listen to me if I don’t practice listening to others?
I’m not suggesting this is an easy task. It’s actually one of the most challenging struggles in this life, because whether we love Jesus or not, the human heart is filled with arrogant pride, and we’re always inventing new ways to disguise it from ourselves and others. My goal is to be quick to listen, and instead of immediately offering my view, to ask more questions and find the commonalities between myself and others, attempting to build bridges to cross instead of strongholds to hide behind. I’m not always successful, let’s face it, ‘motor mouth’ is an accurate nickname for me, but I will continue to wrestle with my nature and consciously “hear with thoughtful attention.”