From Kate in California:
Most people say I am a good listener. I know and naturally practice the skills involved in active listening. I maintain eye contact, I nod, I ask clarifying questions, I nod some more, my facial expressions vary appropriately, and I insert "uh huh"s and "I understand"s at regular intervals. But sometimes I think I am too good at this kind of listening. While I make a sincere effort to "be a good listener" and I certainly succeed at giving the appearance of listening well, there are certain moments when I become aware that something more foundational is missing. My spirit is not still and my heart is not open. I'm trying too hard. It's too much about me.
One online article on active listening says "You should also try to respond to the speaker in a way that will both encourage him or her to continue speaking, so that you can get the information if [sic] you need." This placed alongside Wikipedia's entry ("[Active listening] focuses attention on the speaker") alerted me to part of my problem. Too often my listening is about me. It's about getting information. It's about making myself feel useful and needed. It's about reinforcing other's positive opinions of me.
I'm grateful that I've started to be able to discern when my listening is an act of striving. Now my prayer can be that I would "cease striving" in this area of my life, so that I might truly listen when people talk to me--all people--not least of whom are the three Persons of the Trinity. How wonderful would it be if prayer itself became this kind of open, other-centered listening! I think of the passage my husband and I were trying to memorize in February: "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves" (Romans 12:9). The kind of listening that Fr. Hopko is talking about has this sincere love at its core. A love that desires to know the other and to do them good through an act of humble receptivity.
The other day my dear friend Carla drew my attention to a story that I've been told several times. That day I heard it for the first time. It became a new picture of love and intimacy for me. Here it is: A few years ago, I saw Dan Rather interview Mother Theresa. He asked her, “When you pray, what do you say?” Mother Theresa responded, “I don’t say anything, I listen.” Dan Rather, not satisfied with her answer, asked, “Well, then when you pray, what does God say?” Mother Theresa smiled and responded, “He doesn’t say anything either, he listens.”
Oh, to be there--quietly sitting in the presence of God--listening. Who knows what I would hear? I can only imagine how beautiful the sound of God listening is!
Afterthoughts: I'm curious to know how others hear the words "listen" and "hear." How are they related in your mind? To me, listening seems active and external, while hearing seems to be an interior experience that has to do not only with the ears but with the heart and mind's interpretation. Hearing is akin to understanding. I've heard people accused of not listening, and I've also heard people accused of listening, but not hearing or vice versa. How do they differ in your mind? I think of the oft-repeated command in Scripture "If any man has ears to hear, let him hear." According to my perfunctory google search, this sentence occurs "seven times in the Greek Scriptures, and only from the lips of the Lord Jesus."
I eagerly await your comments... with a humble, open spirit and in sisterly love--by the grace of God. Lord have mercy.
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.