The heart of good listening is being aware.
In a conversation, a good listener is aware not only of the words the other person is saying but of their tone, their silences, their body language, and as much of their history and context as the listener knows. All these elements together give the listener a more complete snapshot of the emotional, psychological and mental state of the person to whom he or she is listening.
Taking all this into consideration, the good listener is able, for a moment or two, to step into the other person’s reality and see through their eyes. From that insider’s perspective, the love, care and empathy they offer is truly genuine, and any advice or counsel truly useful.
But in my journey towards deepening as a Listener, I’m discovering that this awareness nurtured by a habit of intentional listening is gradually enabling me to become aware of much more than words and conversations.
I’m growing a kind of sixth sense, noticing and absorbing things which I would have previously overlooked. Situations I might have thought “chance happenings” before are taking on new and deeper meaning. (Can you tell where I’m going with this?)
As my regular readers are aware, we recently rescued a stray dog, and he is quickly becoming “our” dog.
(The “our” is in quotes because he’s only been with us a week, and I’m still holding my breath: will he sicken with a mysterious doggy illness and die? Will a former owner turn up at our gates and demand his polite, gentle, well-mannered pup back? I could never have predicted the storyline so far; I don’t dare try to predict the future…)
While I’m not sure I’m ready to say God sent him to us, I’ve definitely had moments this week where my as-of-January-2014-newly-pricked-up “listening antennae” have zinged slightly, and I’ve caught glimpses of what God might be doing?
Taking me out of my comfort zone. I love my comfort zone. Some of you probably think I must be outside my comfort zone all the time: living as we do in post-Soviet Central Asia, taking holidays in exotic-sounding countries, and spending half our “home” leave in a country I’ve lovingly adopted but which isn’t my passport country.
All of that might sound pretty un-comfortable, but the truth is I actually thrive on it. I really was made to live the life I’m living; it fits me like a glove. And the human penchant for familiarity and routine flows strongly through my veins, so I’ve actually become comfortable here, in this language I’ve been speaking for 10 years, in our third year in this house we’ve wrapped around us, in this neighborhood, in the role of wife and mother. And - I like being comfortable.
I do not like having my comfortable routine invaded unexpectedly and uninvitedly. Which is exactly what has happened.
I think God might doing other things, too, with the arrival of this little dog, such as…
Thrusting upon our family a chance for our eldest son in particular to learn compassion and responsibility…
Opening a door for all three of our kids to learn how to care for something smaller and more helpless than themselves…
Providing a living parable for our neighborhood - in particular one little neighbor boy who spends part of every day at our house - to see Christian charity (in the best and oldest sense of that word) in action…
And also, I suppose, granting that little dog a chance to become the best version of himself instead of the worst, to learn how to develop mutually satisfying relationships with human beings…
(Not that I really care that much at the moment, to be perfectly honest, with everything else on my plate, about the development of the potential worth within a stray dog, but maybe - probably? - he’ll surprise me…)
Learning to listen is like pricking up the ears of your soul (see? I’m using doggy analogies now) or swiveling your spiritual antennae to catch new sound waves of meaning in the ordinary things that happen every day….
Like hearing a redemptive analogy in the rescue of a scrawny stray.
I’m calling him “Shepket”. Mercy.
(Yeah, I know, it’s melodramatic - I can’t help it. But hey, look - it shortens to “Shep”, the classic American dog name… and now you can laugh.)