Listen with Respect

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxHow do you know what you think you know? It’s amazing how many times we jump to conclusions. We hear something through a third party, or we overhear a part of a conversation, or we hear something in the way we want to hear it and insist we know the intention behind it. We fill in the gaps between what someone actually said to make the entire story into what we want it to be instead of what it actually is. We omit the parts that contradict what we want to believe, and we ever-so-slightly embellish those areas that emphasize our points.

It’s important to go to the source, then listen with respect. Listening with respect isn’t the same as listening for ammunition. It’s listening for truth. It’s giving the person time to talk. It’s asking clarifying questions and briefly summarizing or restating every now and then to insure what you’re hearing is the same as what the person is trying to communicate. It’s listening more than you talk. It’s setting aside your personal agenda for the common good of the relationship. It’s putting others above self.

Active listening is a developed skill. It takes practice. Most of us talk much more than we listen. Even if you’re a quiet person, you can’t quickly take yourself off the hook on this one, because a quick word count comparing what you say and what you hear isn’t the same as active listening. Active listening involves investment in a relationship, which means you need to respond in order to show the person your respect. You need to engage, asking questions and restating the basics.

Listening with respect doesn’t assume you agree with everything being said. It’s not nearly as much about what is said as who is saying it. God instructs us to respect one another. It’s clear by the standards and expectations he sets that not every behavior, belief, and attitude should be respected, revered, accepted, or tolerated. But we don’t throw the person out with the behavior. It difficult to listen with respect when the person has done something we don’t respect, especially when we find out a person we’ve previously looked up to has gone against biblical principles he or she has previously personally revered and taught. However, it’s not about how we feel like responding. It’s about how God instructs us to respond. And there’s no doubt he commands respect among his followers.

To whom do you need to listen with respect today? Invite the conversation. Let God build your faith by trusting him through the process. He will guide you through what you think is impossible.

Show respect for all people: Love the brothers and sisters of God’s family… (1 Peter 2:17)

Get Quiet

quiet“Be quiet” is different than “Get quiet.”

We can be quiet so that no one around us hears a sound from us, but our minds spin. We dwell on a conversations we had earlier in the day and have imaginary arguments with people. We go over our to do lists and schedules and wonder how it will all fit. We worry, dream, dwell, and scheme.

We’re not quiet at all.

But quiet is important. It’s a stillness. It’s an intentional setting aside of all the busyness and voices. It’s a retreat.

God often speaks the most strongly, clearly, and loudly when we are by ourselves and quiet, when we still ourselves. No one can do it for us. It’s up to us to position ourselves well to seek, hear, and listen to Him today.

I know it’s not easy. (Many things worthwhile aren’t easy.) We struggle to find a block of time. (Start with one minute). We can’t seem to quiet the noise of our minds. (Don’t give up. Catch those distractions as quickly as you can and set them aside promptly.)

Quiet alone time is important and worth the effort and sacrifice.

Get quiet today.

Stories

Anyone who met my dad has a story about him. And he met a lot of people. He saw lots of people on a regular basis. But he also made friends with people he knew for a short time. He nearly always went away from the interaction with a story about the person’s life, a bit of news, or an odd connection he’d discover about something or someone they had in common. My dad was always searching for and collecting stories, connecting the dots.

(I sometimes wonder what stories people who had short encounters with him took with them, and what they shared with others. Like the guy outside Macy’s in Manhattan. Did he go to work and say, “I had the strangest conversation today with a country boy who was standing outside Macy’s while his wife and daughter shopped. He looked completely out of place but acted as if him being there and saying hi to people as they rushed by was absolutely normal.”)

For as much as he talked and shared stories, he listened well. He had absorbed a lot of information throughout his life. Like all of us, some of it was probably useless, but I was often surprised at how what I thought was a useless fact, brought up at just the right time, resonated with someone just enough to make a connection.

Maybe that was the point: connections. Dad rarely started a conversation out of the blue. He listened for springboards, bouncing off what someone else would say. People remember him because of his stories, but the stories stuck because he engaged people. He went along with the flow of the conversation, not trying to force it but simply using it to journey with someone, whether it was outside a department store in New York City, during biweekly treatments, or over coffee before the sun was up.

People were important to him. People often listened, because he listened to others. He collected stories, then wove them into others’ stories. If he was in a crowd with someone who seemed to be talking just to hear herself/himself, he wouldn’t engage. (In fact, you might even catch him rolling his eyes and moving his hands as if to say, “Blah, blah, blah. Will this chatter ever stop?”) Dad shared lots of words, but if the words themselves were the goal, he was out. If the interaction between two people was the goal, he was in.

Too often, we have an agenda to sharing our stories and knowledge. We want other people to know what we know. We want to share what’s going on in our lives. But the best way to do that is to listen to what’s going on with others. That’s when the dots begin to show up, the dots that are similar to our own, the dots we can connect.

And if we can’t connect the dots with others, what’s the point?

If we don’t connect the dots, it’s just a lot of “blah, blah, blah.”

Assumed Motives

2015-09-04_16-19-24Why do we assume we know someone’s motives?

We think they’re irritated, disinterested, selfish, inconsiderate, disorganized, or a myriad of other motives. When we don’t like the way someone responds, we can quickly assume we know his or her reason. And rarely is that assumption positive. We can slowly think we know someone in ways that we really don’t.

And that’s dangerous to a relationship, whether it’s at home, work, ministry, or in friendships. We need to be patient enough to clarify through observing patterns over time or simply asking, “Just so I don’t take this the wrong way, can you let me know if you’re (irritated, disinterested, selfish, inconsiderate, etc.)?”

Much of the time, if we’re willing to honestly listen and change our assumptions, we’ll find we’re wrong. And in the process, we’ll let others know we care enough to listen. We’ll try to understand them even when we wouldn’t do things the same way. We’re willing to let someone change what we assume.

And in the process, we’ll deepen our relationships. After all, people are more important than assumptions. People are more important than being right or having things our own way. Listening and being challenged isn’t comfortable, but it’s essential if we want to grow, both personally and relationally.

 

No More Trained Seals

oscar_obrian1God doesn’t want trained seals. He doesn’t want our obligatory obedience to get a prize.

God wants our obedience because of our desire for Him.

He wants our willingness to listen and change as He guides.

He doesn’t change, nor do the general goals He has for us. He wants us to grow in our goodness, kindness, gentleness, patience, love, self-control, and more, but growth includes change. The situations of our lives change, so the specific application of all these and other qualities shift as well. We can’t insist that we can respond the same way that God guided and provided through one time and get the same results. Listening to Him is important. Responding to Him is essential. Inviting Him to change us is constant.

We Miss Out

maxresdefaultFor God speaks time and again, but a person may not notice it. (Job 33:14)

We miss out because we’re not attentive to the right things at the right times. We get distracted. Perhaps we haven’t really gotten focused yet at all, at least, not on the right things. We think we know best. We think we know what to expect, including from God. We over-think and over-control, or we over-doubt and over-disconnect. We don’t want to be disappointed, so we try to structure our lives the way we think will keep us the safest…or the most successful or acknowledged or whatever is a priority to us.

All the while, we miss out on God’s encouragement, teaching, admonishment, and truth, because we don’t notice Him. We’re not attentive enough. We don’t know Him well enough.

But we can.

When We Don’t Like Our Friends

right-or-wrongLook, my eyes have seen all this; my ears have heard and understood it.
Everything you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.
Yet I prefer to speak to the Almighty and argue my case before God.
But you coat the truth with lies; you are all worthless doctors.
If only you would shut up and let that be your wisdom! (Job 13:1-5)

Sometimes our friends say things we don’t like. (Sometimes other people do, too, but it’s easier to dismiss people we’re not close to.) We value friendship, but we don’t always like the truth that comes with it. Sometimes, our friends are flat out wrong or their motivation to “help” us is misguided. But sometimes, they give us a dose of truth, and while it might be intended to be loving, it feels anything but.

We lash out. We defend ourselves. We attack the very ones we feel attacked by, no matter what their intentions were in the first place.

When we don’t like what friends say, we sometimes turn on them. But is there a hint of truth in what they’re saying? What damage will we do to the friendship with our lashing out, and is it worth the cost? Do we play the blame game and walk away, claiming with friends like these, who needs enemies? Do we put on the coat of self-righteousness, claiming our perspective is the truthful one, as if only one of us can have truth on our side?

What if we took a deep breath and maybe even a time out before we responded?

The next verse in Job says, “Hear now my argument, and listen to my defense.” (Job 13:6) Isn’t that the main issue? We want to be listened to, heard. We want to be able to express ourselves in real ways. It’s difficult, because it makes us vulnerable, but vulnerability is a small price to pay compared to being unknown and misunderstood.

When we don’t like what our friends have to say, we can respond with humility and trust that God knows us well, just as He knows our friends well–better than we can possibly know each other. We can trust Him. After all, it’s not as much about the verdict of who is right and who is wrong; it’s trusting God to be right and knowing we can be right together when we seek and follow Him well…together.