THE POWER OF LISTENING
The Loss of Awe – Part 3
by Hud McWilliams
One of the most obvious yet elusive parts of real human connection come from the ability to understand another. The vehicle that carries the weight for understanding is listening. If we only want to win or end the conversation, then we push toward ending questioning and remove the room necessary for dialogue. Without space there is no place for authentic connection. Listening demands space that debate does not.
When I was a young parent, often with myself on my hands, I was quite focused on being efficient, since I was a full-time professor, and working full time on a doctorate. (This is where you should feel compassion for me 😊 while hearing the justification.)
One day I was working on our finances and my very young son came to my desk and asked me to observe his artwork from school. I must have said “nice” and then went back to calculating. My son stood there and in an uncharacteristic manner was still. What now seems to me like a long time, I finally turned toward him and said, “What?”. His response still impacts me. He asked, “How can you see without looking?” My question for us is, “how can you hear without listening”?
I have been married for over 50 years and find myself in awe of the woman to whom I am married. Surprise and wonder remain constant, every day – if I am listening.
If dialogue is loving, then debate is an escape from loving. Listening can be a core tool that opens us up to the terror of truly being loved. I believe many people travel through life without knowing love because love can seem so vulnerable. No relationship is safe! Trust is not safe. And the central element in relationship is trust. Trust is based on knowledge. Blaise Pascal likens this and all of life to a crazy wager. Part of the reason we have lost awe and wonder comes from our fierce self-protective stance. The real desire to eliminate risk and not need to trust but have control of some kind. If relationships are designed to not be safe, but rather an essential instrument in our growth, then defensiveness works against us having any risk. Fear shouts down truth and being safe wins the debate. Truth will defend itself without being defensive!
Listening can be a core tool that opens us up to the terror of truly being loved.
In Matthew 3:17 Jesus, at the beginning of His ministry during his baptism, hears his Father say, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Then in Matthew 17:5-7 Jesus’ Father once again repeats the same message at the end of his earthly ministry, the transfiguration, with an additional, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” The Greek verb listen is a historical present, even though translated into English as past. It is in the very present that this kind of listening is needed. Not I “heard” you last week, but “now” in this space and time. What often robs me of truly hearing is not taking the time. Listening is not in any way efficient. It is, however, wildly effective. I have plenty of opportunities because I have long (albeit professional) conversations with people. A luxury indeed. Yet in reflection, listening may be the central needed part to combat our loss of awe. If I listen to find flaws and counter argue, then I miss connection. On the other hand, if I listen to understand, I then have a chance to connect.
In musing about this the other day, I think the order in which we do things really matters and may be seminal to the redemption we all need. If I desire to listen to understand you and not debate you, then maybe I need to have my “needs” met before we engage. This is what the biblical message tells me. God alone meets my needs. In 2 Peter 1:3 it states that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” Similarly in Luke 15:31 we hear these words from the Father, “My child, you have always been with me and all that is mine has always been yours.” When this perspective comes first, my needs are met. When I then engage with you, I can listen; not to meet some need in me but rather to be able to candidly, with open hands, “hear” you and build the bridge between us for which we are designed.
Maybe we can end listening to build a case thus pushing us away from each other and begin to represent the biblical case that listens to hear, drawing people into true truth, and embracing the uniqueness and complexity that God created in every individual.
Alongside to reclaim our sense of awe through listening.
By his grace,