For nearly 13 years, I’ve had in my possession a particular rock. Faded letters are written in silver on the smooth, gray surface – they spell the word, “Listen.”
Since receiving it at a conference years ago, the oval-shaped stone has traveled in my purse, sat on the kitchen window ledge, resided on my nightstand. It has survived spring cleanings, house purges and many moves. It currently is nestled in a bowl on my dresser, right next to where I place my wedding ring each evening.
I’ve lost socks and pictures and gift cards, misplaced car keys and documents over the past decade… but that rock has been a constant.
Why? It’s a simple yet significant reminder of the person I want to be. A person who pays attention, who learns from life.
A genuine listener.
Listening is a skill that seems to passing by the wayside in our culture. In our current political climate, voices constantly try to top another in their banter and insist on yelling – figuratively or literally – at those who are different. Many are more consumed with getting in the last word instead of first hearing out others’ perspectives.
The widespread acceptance of smartphones and social media have also played their part in dulling our ability to hear. Our senses are constantly bombarded with images and so much noise that it takes intentional effort to truly listen.
Listening is hard. There is an inflexibility of thought in today’s culture that dumbs down issues into black or white, instead of acknowledging the gray that exists in tough situations and conversations. We are scared of the future, scared of change. And so we refuse to listen and consider others’ viewpoints.
That’s why I was so excited to pick up Adam McHugh’s book “The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction.” I’m only a couple chapters in, but I appreciate how the author describes listening as a type of chosen obedience: “Hearing is an act of the senses, but listening is an act of the will. In listening you center not only your ears but also your mind, heart and posture on someone or something other than yourself.”
I know that my own personal growth directly correlates to how much time I’ve spent intentionally listening. This type of listening comes in many forms, from paying attention to those I come in contact with regularly to seeking out voices outside my normal sphere. It involves playing podcasts and reading books and spending time in silence and solitude in order to connect with myself and my Creator on a more intimate level.
Genuine listening requires space and self-discipline and flexibility. It involves a willingness to let go, humbly change and be led by Another’s plans. It tries my patience, softens my heart, stretches my mind.
Which is why this book came available at such a perfect time – the start of Lent. In the weeks leading up to Easter, those who follow the Christian liturgical calendar assess their lives and reflect on how to love others better. Listening is one act that helps propel us in that journey.
McHugh reaffirms that listening, a true act of servanthood, is the basis in discovering who we truly are: “Our identities will not be discovered in finding our own voice independent of others but in helping others find their voices. We learn how to listen because we want to learn how to love.”
Taking the time to pay attention reaps incredible rewards. Lasting relationships. Deeper contentment. Increased wisdom, as well as a desire to learn more.
The more I listen to others and patiently try to understand their stories, the more my heart enlarges to include and love those living a radically different lifestyle than mine.
The more I listen to and accept myself, the more I am filled with gratitude at who I am uniquely created to be.
The more I am reminded to listen by my Everlasting Rock, the more I find this world more beautiful and bigger than I could ever imagine.