MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE. I HAVE AN IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT TO MAKE:
Are you listening?
It is a challenge to listen to what someone has to say. A major reason for this difficulty is that we are just not paying attention. We have other things on our mind — distractions — but we don’t simply ignore a person when he or she is trying to talk to us. We respond, but often in an unconsciously halfhearted way.
Here’s a situation: A woman is in the kitchen chopping carrots as she studiously reads through the recipe for tonight’s meal. Her son comes in, and he is excited to tell her all about his epic soccer match from last night. But time is dwindling on the anxious mother as she frantically hurries to put food out on the table. Her natural response is not to ignore her son. Instead, she ends up half-listening to him. The young man wants his mother to share in his enthusiasm, but he senses that she is not giving him her complete attention based on her meager responses, like: “Yeah…, Uh-huh…, That’s nice, dear.”
We all live busy lives, and as a consequence we tend to focus a lot of our attention on the things that occupy us, rather than on the people around us who matter to us. “Half-listening” to someone may result in the other person feeling undervalued, ignored, and abandoned, especially when that person has something important or serious to say. We may become too ignorant of the needs of others if we are not paying attention to them. The way in which we live affects the way in which we are able (or not able) to listen to others. We ought to create the space and time in our lives to be able to spend quality time with those whom we love, to have true and authentic conversations with them.
But we should be cautious not to talk at each other — when two people are talking and neither are listening. An authentic conversation requires one person speaking and another listening. However, true conversation does not result in one person talking to someone — when the listener simply hears the words of the speaker. Rather, a true conversation occurs when two people are speaking with each other, that is, when one person speaks and another listens, and the person listening responds to the speaker. True conversation requires active listening, the ability of the listener to understand what the speaker is trying to say by engaging with the speaker. The active listener is continually asking questions of the speaker, about who the speaker is. The listener wants the speaker to speak more in order to learn more!
Listening, then, requires work. Listening is not merely the passive reception of another person’s words. Listening is an action of the one who desires to seek the truth from the other. The listener takes interest in getting to know the other — even delights in the other.
This is the way we should listen to God: actively. Free from distraction, we should be fully engaged in our conversation with God, continually asking Him: “Who are you?”
We can listen to God when He speaks his word to us in Sacred Scripture. We can listen to God when He invites us to the altar of His Holy Sacrifice. We can listen to God when we spend that most precious time with Him in Adoration. And God will be listening to us, and He will ask us: “What do you want?” And like Saint Thomas Aquinas, we will have this to say: Non nisi te, Domine — “Nothing but you, Lord.”
The psalmist summarizes it beautifully when he says:
I love the Lord, because he has heard
my voice and my supplications.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live. (Psalm 116:1-2, RSV)
Image: Pieter Aertsen, Peasants by the Hearth