Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Stop, Look & Listen ~ PART TWO

Dear Friends,

Last week in Stop, Look & Listen~PART ONE, we saw why it’s helpful to apply the railroad safety slogan to our communications with one another. Two friends were talking. She was telling him that her father had recently died. His quick, off-the-cuff response was callous, thoughtless and trivialized her father’s passing. If he had only stopped for a moment to actually focus his attention on her, looked at the pain and grief on her face, and listened to her aching heart, he would have never said what he said. The brother of Jesus wrote that in all our conversations, we should first listen and listen well before we finally speak. James 1:19 (NLT).
As I’ve been more intentional about my own conversations this past week, I’ve become aware of how too often my own communication style can be described not as “stop, look & listen” but more as “hit & run.” I’ve caught myself too many times just throwing off a snappy remark to someone as I rushed by the person to get to whatever perceived priority was calling to me at that moment. But at a recent church workday, the most enjoyable and fulfilling moments were those when I was reminded to stop what I was doing and be with another person, look at them, and listen to them.

In last week’s AMEN Corner, we saw the communications contrast between the younger Millennial generation and the older generations (Baby Boomer and Builder). I said, “At the risk of oversimplifying, on one end of the generation spectrum are younger people who don't know how to talk with each other and at the other end, is a generation with no one to talk to.” The younger generation has plenty of wise and not-so-wise older people in their lives who talk to them. They have fewer older people who love them enough to stop and just listen to them. 

Most of us have the talking part nailed down – the listening part, not so much. Stephen Covey wrote, “You’ve spent years learning how to read and write, years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training or education have you had that enables you to listen so that you really, deeply understand another person..?”And quite honestly, some of us may need to polish our listening skills.

What annoys me about people, and I’m sure what annoys people about me, is when we fail to listen, focus on what we are going to say next and interrupt the person to hijack the conversation. If you or I do that, the Bible bluntly calls us a “fool.” Proverbs 18:2 (NLT) And when we jump to conclusions and make assumptions before we hear the other person, we are being foolish. Proverbs 18:13 (NLT) 

But we exhibit good listening skills when we stop what we’re doing and look at the other person. When we ask clarifying and follow-up questions.. When we listen past the words and listen to their feelings, emotions and struggles.. When we don’t interrupt.. When we refuse to be distracted by our cell phone and the world around us.. When we are sensitive to where the Holy Spirit is leading the conversation.. When our responses flow out of a heart of Christ-like love...

Those in the counseling and therapy fields are taught techniques such as mirroring back and making empathetic statements in order to create a listening environment where people find it safe to talk. Studies have shown “therapeutic listening” to be very effective in the healing process. It’s always a delight (but no surprise) to read that secular studies have reached conclusions that line up with God’s word! But we don’t need to use learned therapeutic techniques or memorize rote responses, because when we are filled with the love of Jesus, it’s out of the overflow of our heart that our mouth speaks. Matt 12:34.

The people group that most needs to be listened to today are the seniors. Few emotions are more overwhelming than loneliness. As our population ages, more and more seniors are struggling with feelings of despair and abandonment. Grown children are gone and raising families of their own. Friends move away, pass on, or are confined in senior rest homes. 20% of seniors live alone and even 60% of those who are still married experience loneliness. The breakdown of family relationships today has made many older people feel as if they’ve been pushed to the outer fringe of life and forgotten. The most encouraging gift you can give a senior is your time and attention. Just stop what you are doing and love them like Jesus. John 13:34

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