Listening and hearing are not the same thing
by Connie Faber
"I thought I heard the captain’s voice, but its hard to listen while you preach.” — Bono in U2’s Every Breaking Wave
Listening is a spiritual discipline worth our attention during Lent. To be honest, listening is something I should probably work on 365 days of the year instead of just the 40 days of preparation for Easter Sunday.
Listening is different than hearing. We all—or at least most of us—can hear. But do we listen? We hear with our ears; we listen with our souls. Hearing is mechanical; listening is human. Listening is incarnational; it concentrates on the other person. Sometimes when I only hear, my mind wanders. But when I’m listening, you have my full attention; I focus on you and not myself or anything in the environment around us. When I listen, everything else is on “mute.”
What keeps us from listening? Perhaps speaking too much and too quickly. The author of Ecclesiastes cautions his readers to “let your words be few” since many words “mark the speech of a fool” (5:2-3). Both the preacher of Ecclesiastes and the apostle James urge us to slow down when it comes to talking. “Do not be quick with your mouth,” says Eccles. 5:2. While everyone else is busy talking, our call as followers of Jesus is to be slow to speak but quick to listen (James 1:19). I think there is a good reason James 1:19 ties becoming angry with the encouragement regarding listening and speaking. I don’t know about you, but when I am angry I usually stop listening and begin expounding louder and faster on the truth as I see it. And most of the time, nothing good comes from that combination.
We sometimes talk about “speaking truth” into the life of another person. Maybe we should leave it up to God to speak to those we care about, and we should take care to listen into their lives. My resolution for this Lent season is to economize my words while listening generously and abundantly.