Sunday, 24 February 2013

The small miracle of listening

A few days ago, I went to my local drug store, which contains a post office. I needed a stamp.

I stood in a lineup of people waiting to mail parcels and pick up packages, and searched in vain for the express aisle. I just needed a stamp. After five minutes with little movement, I noticed a tiny sign that told me there were stamps at the checkout. Bonus.

When I reached the front of the checkout line with my few parcels, I opened my mouth to ask for stamps, but the girls asked me if I wanted a bag. "Ummm, no thanks." I opened my mouth again, and she had my parcels checked through and was asking for the points card.  I found it for her. On the third try, she said, "Will that be credit or debit?" In frustration, I made a gesture of impatience and said (rather louder than necessary) "I need stamps."

"You need stamps." She opened the drawer in front of her and produced the stamps. "Just trying to get the questions out."

What happened to listening?

If she had stopped for a fraction of a second, I could have asked my question, but she had been trained to ask a series of questions as quickly as possible in the interest of providing good service. Also, her break was the next thing on her agenda, as soon as she was done with me.

I've never been good at rapid-fire anything. Pepper me with questions, and I shut down. I have a good brain, but it doesn't work that way. That's why mental arithmetic and multiplication drills left me in the dust. (Okay, anything to do with math left me in the dust, but you get my drift.) That's why I don't go into a popular coffee shop. As soon as I walk in the door, I am accosted by an enormous menu of drink options, with various sizes and flavours. In front of it is someone who wants to know your order. Now

I'm not the only one like this. I used to decorate cakes at an ice cream shop, and I'd see people leaving with a glazed expression. All they wanted was ice cream, but they had to decide between cone or cup, waffle cone or regular, plain or chocolate dipped cone, a counter full of flavours, and then there were the toppings. I felt sorry for them.

Maybe it's not just the service industry. How many times do I ask someone, "How are you?" and not listen for the answer? Do I stop to look at their face and take a few minutes to hear what might behind their glib response?

James has it pinned down. "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." James 1:19. It's not just about shutting up (although  that's a start) but actively listening, and responding only with thoughtful care. Think about what is behind what the person is saying. 

God, now He's the ultimate listener. "The Lord hears when I call to Him."Psalm 3:4 He listens, He cares, He loves me, He answers.

You, too.

"Lord, remind me. Quiet my heart; help me to set aside my agenda. Make me into the kind of listener who really cares. Make me like You.

Do you remember a time when someone really listened, and it made a difference?

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