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KOEDYKER: It's time to revive the sacred art of listening

• Sep 13, 2017 at 2:30 PM

“My brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

If there were ever words that we ought to pay attention to at this particular time, it is those words from James 1:19 in the New Testament of the Bible.

It seems to me that, at the present time in the United States, there is an awful (and I mean “awful”) lot talking and shouting and bickering and fighting going on about different opinions. And most of the shouting appears to be about politics, social issues and matters of religion.

It just so happens that these three main areas of conversation always seem to bring about discussions and arguments. People really get charged up about these things. That’s because these things often go to the heart of what people believe. So, unfortunately what often happens is that what could be a profitable discussion degenerates into yelling, name-calling and even violence.

Part of the problem is that we all want to be heard. We don’t want to be shut down.

Actually, the need to be heard is a very basic human need.

I had a conversation with someone the other day and one thing that came up again and again as we spoke was the fact that her boss ignored her. When she had something to say, he acted like he was not interested; when she had a question, he never answered her. It frustrated my friend to no end.

God created us as social beings. That is a tremendous blessing! Talking, sharing, caring, listening — these are all important elements in a meaningful relationship.

I love the Psalm attributed to King David that says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1) It is pleasant!

Having an honest and genuine relationship with another person takes effort. It doesn’t happen automatically. And it requires even more effort with people you may not like or agree with.

One of the great commandments that Jesus spoke of and lived out was, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When someone went further on in the conversation and asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan. And what a story that was — a story that never grows old or becomes out of date.

Our neighbor is not just the person or family who lives next door, it’s whoever crosses our path. That could be anyone: the waitress at the restaurant, the kid who delivers the newspaper, the mail carrier, the person who is waiting in line with you at the store. Anyone!

And often, it seems to me, developing relationships with people has a lot to do with listening.

Another friend was telling me the other day that he and his family were invited for dinner by another family. The host asked my friend questions about himself, but before my friend was finished with his thought, the host charged into the conversation to talk about himself. “It was like he never even heard what I said” was how my friend described it.

In an article from Psychology Today, “The Sacred Art of Listening,” author Tara Brach concurred with how my friend felt. “We spend most our moments when someone is speaking, planning what we’re going to say, trying to come up with our presentation of our self, or controlling the situation.” (Jan. 9, 2014) Instead, she says, “Pure listening is letting go of control.” We can’t understand a person when we are trying to control the conversation or trying to impress them with what we are saying.

Here’s how she sums it up: “The bottom line is, when we are listened to, we feel connected. When we are not listened to, we feel separate.”

God’s plan is that we be connected with others — that we share the joys and sadness of life together; that we care for each other, encourage each other, and support each other. That is really the essence of love.

Jackie DeShannon had a popular song when I was growing up: “What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” Well, the world has not changed all that much — we still need love. But in order to love, we need to listen.

An unknown author put it this way: A wise old owl lived in an oak. The more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard.

Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?

— By the Rev. John Koedyker, Tribune community columnist and pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven

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