What Did You Hear?
Listening is an art form. It has to do with more than hearing words. It also hears silences, tones and the organizations of words into sentences and questions. Listening is wanting to hear what the other is saying and being willing for those words to impact, challenge, and change the listener. Listening is not, however, always agreeing with the other. You can listen and believe differently than what the other is saying but you listen out of respect.
A friend of mine a few weeks ago was telling me about a conversation he had with a dear friend and said; “It didn’t go the way I planned!” His friend became upset with the conversation. I asked my friend; “Did you ask your friend what she had heard you say?” “No,’ he replied, ‘Why?” “Because,’ I said, “She might have heard something completely different from what you were saying.”
It’s amazing but communicating with others is a combination of listening, speaking, processing, projecting, interpreting and understanding. When one of these is missing the connection with the other can be lost, disrupted and the moment can never be repeated.
Listening is a sacred act, do it well.
On Wednesday night of this week, I was speaking with someone about being truthful and honest to the people in our lives. He stated that being too open can lead to betrayal and pain and therefore he doesn’t share his story for fear of being taken advantage of. It was a fair argument but I told him maybe his issue wasn’t being fearful of openness but being open to the wrong people. People we can trust, who won’t use our words and experiences against us, who will listen to understand and be a shoulder to lean on are invaluable.
Earlier in the week, I shared a fatherhood presentation to a group of fathers who have young kids in school. There were dads who were going in to work late and some who had worked all night diligently sitting there to learn more about how they could be involved in their children’s lives, especially when it comes to education. After the presentation while saying; “goodbye” to the fathers one of the attendees came up and began speaking with me. She had some questions about getting a father involved and shared her story. What she told me was hard to hear with many issues and other challenges she’s had to overcome. I couldn’t believe how open she was being when we had just met a few moments earlier. She believes I am someone she can trust with her family.
Openness, transparency, is something most say they desire in themselves and others. However, these can bring feelings of uncomfortableness, questions that aren’t easily answered, and an unsettling fear of not being skilled enough to meet the need. When these thoughts are rushing through our minds the need to breathe and be still must be remembered. Most people don’t want you to fix them they simply need someone to listen without judging. If there are problems to solve and mysteries to unravel we can do them together as we travel this path called life.
In the last few days, I have developed a rash on my left hand. I don’t know where it came from but I only noticed it yesterday on the way to work. It doesn’t itch too bad but my hand is a little swollen. When she came home from work yesterday Beth looked at it and we tried to figure out what I had gotten into. There is, what looks like a bite, near the knuckle on my index finger. I haven’t been near any unusual plants or, as far I know, been bitten by anything. We began treating it last night with an anti-itch, anti-swelling cream and taking a Benadryl. It looks better today and hopefully will continue to disappear.
Since realizing I had the rash I’ve been lost trying to figure out what happened. It seems as if it appeared from nowhere but I know this isn’t the case. Somewhere, somehow I got infected but it doesn’t matter when it comes to treating it and monitoring it.
Wisdom teaches us that we will not always see new challenges and difficulties coming. There are times and seasons when things just appear and we must adjust our lives to it. Illnesses, financial struggles, job loss, people we love enduring suffering. We desire two pieces of knowledge we think will help us deal with these issues. We want to know why and how long. Why, how, did this happen to us and how long will it last before we can get back to normal. Often, however, we don’t have an answer to these questions but they shouldn’t stop us from accepting a new normal, adjusting to the unknown, and continuing to live while we recover.
A young man I’ve known for several years wrote a thought provoking and heart wrenching post on Facebook yesterday. It was full of questions and doubts about the world, God, politics, people and more. In it he questioned things too many take for granted. He wondered about evil and the goodness of creation, church and it’s hypocrisy, himself and others. When I read it my spirit resonated with his over the doubt, fear, confusion of existence.
Too often we view doubt as bad or negative thinking. Well meaning (I hope) but ill informed folks tell us doubt has no place in a believer’s life, heart or mind. The problem is in the Bible, especially the Psalms, even Jesus, was full of doubt, uncertainty, questions and confusion at times.
Questions are not wrong. Belief without the furnace of doubt is brittle, easily bent and broken.
Some things simply don’t go together. Tea without sugar, the beach and rain, the DMV and expediency, mowing grass in a sweatshirt, coat and wearing earmuffs. Yet, the latter is exactly what I did today.
This last week we’ve had a lot of rain and even though it’s October the grass is still growing. I was hoping to mow on Thursday and Friday but the ground was too wet. This morning I decided to take the chance and cut the yard. I put on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, walked outside and immediately came back in. It was more than chilly, it was cold made even worse by a stiff wind. So, I bundled up, went out, hopped on the mower and completed the chore.
Other events happened this week that shouldn’t go together either. Schools and guns, young people and death. I can’t imagine the terror and trauma in that classroom in Oregon as those students, teachers, faculty realized what was occurring. My mind reels and heart breaks to think of the final moments and last breaths of the victims and the shooter.
The questions; “Where was God? Why didn’t he stop it? How could he allow such a horrible incident?” are valid and need to be asked. More things which don’t seem to go together; a good, loving, powerful God and senseless acts of violence. Unfortunately we live in a world where they do.
I’ve heard most of the arguments which attempt to answer the divine dilemma tragedies such as the school shooting in Oregon bring. Few of them pass the scrutiny of logic and theology, none of them ease the pain of loss and despair.
In times and seasons such as these two additional things which don’t seem to go together but often do; faith and doubt. The journey of wisdom is not toward absolute certainty. It is learning how faith and doubt, conviction and confusion, comfort and questioning, presence and apparent absence are held together in our spirits without separating us from a God we’ll never fully understand.
Part of my work with fathers involves leading a group of dads dealing with the disease of addiction. During these sessions I help them focus in part on assessing their mental health and understanding its importance. We begin with each member of the group answering the question; “On a scale of 1-5, how is your mental health?” Usually this goes smoothly but this past week an unusual thing happened. One of the men, in the middle of our session, yelled at me; “AND HOW ARE YOU DOING MENTALLY?!?!” Startled, I took a breath, smiled and spoke softly to him; “It depends on the day. Today, I’m probably a 3.” He smiled and we went on with the group.
The next day another longtime friend asked me; “How are you?” The question was repeated again later that same day by another person dear to me. I began to wonder and reflect on my original answer given to the group of dads. I told Beth about the multiple inquires and my response. We also talked about the stress and busyness of the last few weeks and the importance of keeping myself honestly aware of my emotional and physical health.
Too often we dismiss needed queries, tune out discussions, give flippant replies regarding our state of being. Wisdom tells us to listen to what’s being asked for in the question we may find our answer.
The videos and images are shocking. People destroying their own neighborhoods, attacking the police, reporters, innocent bystanders in an act of defiance, rebellion, protest and desperation. Why? Are they angry because another young black man has died at the hands of the police? Are they opportunists using a tragedy as an excuse to rob and loot stores? Are they victims of a system that’s broken, keeping certain socio-economic groups in poverty, uneducated, with little or no hope for a better life? Are they lacking morality, a sense of justice and the knowledge of the difference between right and wrong?
The answer is “Yes” but the next question is…”why?”
Last week I was part of a training of local law enforcement. As part of the presentation our group showed the hilarious video above of Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the candy coming along the conveyor belt. I told the officers; “You guys are Lucy and Ethel. The chocolate keeps coming faster and faster and you’re doing all you can to keep up. Abuse, neglect, drugs, assault, robbery, murders. You’ve seen it all and it isn’t slowing down or getting better. You’re on the front lines, first responders. Your job isn’t to ask what’s happening on the other side of the wall. Why does the candy keep coming? You take care of the mess.” I then explained that finding out what’s on the other side, why it’s happening, helping slow or stop the candy from coming, is what our community organization does.
In times of social crisis and upheaval the immediate concern is to bring stability, help those who are hurting, and hold those who are responsible for harming others and the community accountable. However, calming the present doesn’t safeguard the future. We must not be afraid of asking tough questions that have no easy answers. “Why are some willing to torch their own communities?” “Why is there so much anger, vitriol, self righteousness and condemnation on both sides?” “Why do kids grow up thinking violence, criminal activity is ok?” “Why do others assume people of certain skin colors, from certain neighborhoods who dress, talk, look a certain way are always lazy and up to no good?” “Why do riots keep happening, law enforcement officials and young people keep getting injured or dying?”
When do we ask; “What’s on the other side?” If you think you know the answer, you haven’t thought long and hard enough about the question.
blessings of peace,