Learning to Listen

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.

We speak and we pretend to listen, and somewhere in there we assume that we have communicated. We rarely have.

It makes you wonder why we humans were even given the gift of speech at all. We no longer seem to need it; we’ve forgotten to talk about anything. We waste it. Who was it who said, “I love to talk about nothing. It’s the only thing I know anything about”? (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me, though it may well have been).

Speaking as a professional talker.

In Seriously… I’m Kidding, Ellen De Generes writes: ‘..all this technology is destroying our social skills. Not only have we given up on writing letters to each other, we barely even talk to each other. People have become so accustomed to texting that they’re actually startled when the phone rings. It’s like we suddenly all have Batphones. If it rings, there must be danger.
‘Now we answer, “What happened? Is someone tied up in the old sawmill?”
‘“No, it’s Becky. I just called to say hi.”
‘“Well, you scared me half to death. You can’t just pick up the phone and try to talk to me like that. Don’t the tips of your fingers work?”’

You can talk with someone for years, every day, and still, it won’t mean as much as when you sit in front of someone, not saying a word, yet you feel that person with your heart, you feel like you have known the person for forever.... connections are made with the heart, not the tongue.

So I did a quick concordance check and was staggered to see how much the Bible talks about people who talk too much.

(Why is that, do you think?)

Here’s a brief selection: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (Proverbs 10:19)

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

 “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.“ (Proverbs 18:2)

Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23)

 “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3)

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.” (Ecclesiastes 5:2)

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36)

The last one is pretty chilling, speaking as someone with Limited Inhibitory Syndrome. OK, I made that up. But the truth is I blurt, and I make a mess of things with my mouth. And words spoken cannot be unspoken. And “When words are many, transgression is not lacking.

The truth is I blurt, and I make a mess of things with my mouth.

In fact, 90% of those verses could be summed up as “zip it.” Because words are the source of so much misunderstanding. And the assumptions that we build upon those words are like termites eating away at our relationships.

Yet, it’s natural to talk, as natural as breathing. We speak not only to tell other people what we think but to tell ourselves what we think. Speech is a part of our thinking process. And though many times in my life I’ve regretted the things I’ve said without thinking, I’ve regretted much more the words I left unspoken.

Fred Rogers - a lovely, warm wise man from way back – said: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

I know that I certainly need that “guard upon my lips,” but communication is worth the risk. When you give yourself permission to communicate what really matters to you, you will have peace despite any rejection or disapproval that comes your way. Putting a voice to your soul helps you to let go of the negative clutter of fear and regret.

And it is a powerful consideration, that the apostle John began his Gospel with the sentence, “In the beginning was the Word.” I realise that many wise scholars have written thick books to express the full meaning of this, but at its simplest level it must mean that Jesus is God’s conversation with humanity. Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.

He wants to talk. And “Today, if you hear His voice…” learn to listen.

Ken Baker is a writer and pastor living in Bandon, County Cork.