Thursday, March 27, 2008

18. Listen when people talk to you.

Good morning! Here is Deborah:

When I told my husband this was the maxim I was to write about, he could only sit there and chuckle.

He no doubt had immediate recall of the 6 o'clock hour at our home, with me scurrying around to get dinner on the table, and he arrives, eager to unload news from the work front or just what's on his mind. At that point in the day, the way I do listening often gets downsized to detecting sound waves in the ear canal; and for him, talking then becomes merely an exercise in echo location. This maxim has encouraged me to devise strategies to remedy that situation, thankfully. I'm trying to greet him and give him a few minutes of fairly exclusive time immediately upon his arrival. If that doesn't happen, we're trying to take walks right before or right after dinner with the girls so that we get to converse at least a little bit. And then there's always after the girls are in bed to make more time to talk and listen to one another.

Why do I want to work on listening to my husband? Because I love him and want him to feel loved, respected, cherished as my friend and loving partner. So, can I listen to others in the "people" category with a similar desire for them? Everyone has a need to be heard, to express what's on their minds, in their hearts, from casual conversation to deep therapy. A couple things come to mind. One is the Psalmist in a humbled state: "Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications. Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King and my God..." The other is from Horton Hears a Who: "A person's a person, no matter how small," and the image of that big elephant ear dropping way down to hear what's up in that itty bitty city.

Listening is one of the most fundamental things I can do to embrace another person, to let them be who they are, and maybe at times to let them find out who they are becoming. As Bishop Kallistos Ware has put it, "Just as the three Divine Persons live in and for each other, so man -- being made in the Trinitarian image -- becomes a real person by seeing the world through others' eyes, by making others' joys and sorrows his own ... "

My wise godmother gave me a wonderful book to read during Lent -- Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love. The translator says, "Listening to people was one of [Mother Gavrilia's] special ministries. She often said that in our days, we scarcely know how to listen to the other, for we usually prefer to listen to ourselves, to our own talking, even after we ask a question!" She would sit and listen to others for hours, and when asked how she could do this without collapsing from fatigue, she would always say, "I do not exist." If she did not exist, she could become one with the other person and truly empathize with their situation, giving them hope and encouragement. Later in life Mother Gavrilia found a prior witness to this in a quote by St. Nilus: "He knows himself best, who believes himself as not existing."

Listening can require us to humble ourselves, focusing our undivided attention on the one speaking to us. We have to "lay aside all earthly cares" -- I might try visualizing a bulldozer removing all irrelevant thoughts to the far side of my brain – and provide true listening ears to the one who speaks to us. I guess this really is a good Lenten maxim, as listening can be seen as a way of almsgiving. Listening not only with our ears but also with our hearts can be an act of selfless devotion, sometimes even hard work in order to do it well.

Well, I can't wind this up without adding that we've been given a pretty wonderful example of good listening within the sacrament of confession. During this fasting season we're given the opportunity to unload those earthly cares and speak out about the sins that so easily beset us to our trusted spiritual father confessor who listens attentively, faithfully, facing the icon of Christ with us, offering up the prayer of forgiveness, and encouraging us to make real changes in our lives as we struggle against sin. Thanks be to God!

I'm sorry to all for whom I have been a poor listener. Pray for me, a sinner!

"Listen when people talk to you." Let us be attentive, indeed.


Janet said...

Thanks, Deborah, for those practical examples that I need to apply, from such varied, interesting, inspiring sources! I especially want to remember that "I do not exist" in the context of being attentive. Sometimes, God has spoken to me through the words of a friend or loved one or a stranger: another reason to be attentive.

Debra Mattingly AACPL said...

Thanks, Deborah. Pray for me as I try to listen better to my husband and children and those I supervise at work. As I will pray for all of you women reading and participating in this blog.

The Forty Maxims

  • 1. Be always with Christ and trust God in everything.
  • 2. Pray, fast and do acts of mercy.
  • 3. Read the Scriptures regularly.
  • 4. Read good books, a little at a time.
  • 5. Practice silence, inner and outer.
  • 6. Cultivate communion with the saints.
  • 7. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  • 8. Live a day, even a part of a day, at a time.
  • 9. Be honest, first of all with yourself.
  • 10. Be faithful in little things.
  • 11. Do your work, then forget it.
  • 12. Do the most difficult and painful things first.
  • 13. Face reality.
  • 14. Be grateful.
  • 15. Be cheerful.
  • 16. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  • 17. Never bring unnecessary attention to yourself.
  • 18. Listen when people talk to you.
  • 19. Be awake and attentive, fully present where you are.
  • 20. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.
  • 21. Speak simply, clearly, firmly, directly.
  • 22. Flee imagination, fantasy, analysis.
  • 23. Flee carnal things at their first appearance.
  • 24. Don’t complain, grumble, murmur or whine.
  • 25. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  • 26. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  • 27. Don’t judge anyone for anything.
  • 28. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.
  • 29. Don’t defend or justify yourself.
  • 30. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  • 31. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  • 32. Give advice only when asked or when it is your duty.
  • 33. Be strict with yourself.
  • 34. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  • 35. Do nothing for people that they can do for themselves.
  • 36. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  • 37. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.
  • 38. Endure the trial of yourself and your faults serenely, under God’s mercy.
  • 39. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.
  • 40. Get help when you need it, without fear or shame.