Learning to Listen: A Guest Post with Anita Mathias

Many years ago, one of my dearest friends pinpointed a particular problem of mine: I wasn’t really listening when she talked to me.

Oh, I was physically present, with my body turned towards her, ‘hearing’ her words. But I was not truly listening. She told me that I seldom made eye contact and seemed to be constantly distracted by everything else that was going on around us.

Ouch. Her words stung, as the truth so often does.

After a minute or two of denial, I had to admit that she was right on target. I had this habit of trying to multi-task when someone was talking to me.

I too often chose that time to scan the room, or the patio, or the restaurant — wherever the conversation was happening — to be sure I wasn’t missing something important going on around me.

As if the person in front of me was not important enough.

Or, I would busily scan an invisible list in my head, checking off tasks that needed to be done.

As if life is all about how much we can do, accomplish or perform.

Almost always, I found myself so concerned about my own response to whatever I was hearing, that I had little interior space to simply receive the words of another as the gifts they were.

As if my words, my stories, my experiences were of more intrinsic value than the other person’s.

I was there. But. . . I wasn’t. Physical presence? Yes, assuredly. Emotional presence? Not so much.

For most of my life, I have been a busy person, involved in numerous activities and commitments. From family to church to philanthropic groups to running a small business from my home, to attending seminary, to working in the parish setting — I’ve kept my plate full.

My friend’s words came when I was a seminary student, still managing a floral business, and also serving as a pastoral intern at the church we both attended.

I was over-extended, over-tired and emotionally overdrawn. The well was dry.

Listening, really listening, to anyone became increasingly difficult for me to do. Something had to give, priorities needed to be realigned, and I desperately needed to learn what it meant to pay attention to the lives and stories of other people, most especially people near and dear to me.

Please join me over at Anita’s lovely blog, “Dreaming Beneath the Spires,” to see the rest of this reflection and to find out how I learned to listen a bit better. . .

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