Cultivating the Fine Art of Listening
Dr. James L. Snyder
If confession is good for the soul, I must confess here, I have not been successful at everything in my life. Oh yes, there are a few things I have been successful at, which I won’t mention right now. But many things I have failed to succeed at.
One thing I have failed to succeed at, even though I have tried all my life, is listening.
My ears work, and I can hear many things, but it’s listening when I fail.
My first experience in this area of listening was when I met The Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage. At that time, we were students at a Bible Institute studying for the ministry.
We met in September, and we had become a couple by January.
One night, we were traveling with a group, and she casually asked, “Wouldn’t it be nice to get married?”
Having failed in woman-ology and thinking it was just a casual question, I said, “It sure would be nice to get married.” I thought that was all there was.
The next day, in the school halls, everybody congratulated me, and for the life of me, I did not know what they were talking about. I just thought I passed a test for the first time.
Later, I realized they congratulated me on my engagement to get married. I was the last one to know.
Sure, I heard what she said, but I wasn’t listening to what she said. I have learned through life that there’s a big difference between hearing and listening.
Not long after that incident, we married and have been blissfully married for over 53 years.
As a husband, I had to learn many things, and I wasn’t very successful.
I assumed when your wife asks a question, she is asking to get an answer. It took me a long time to realize that was never the case.
Early in our marriage, she said, “Correct me if I’m wrong…” Then, she explained the situation from her perspective.
Thinking she was asking for my evaluation, I usually would do what she asked and correct her.
The first time I did this, I was not prepared for the outcome.
Looking at me, she graciously said, “If I want your opinion, I will ask for it.”
I thought that’s what she asked for. I was only doing what I thought she said.
It took me a long time to understand her meaning when she said, “Correct me if I’m wrong.” And believe me, I paid a heavy price for learning that too slowly. I only wish I would have known it earlier in our marriage.
Early in our marriage, I was busy correcting her when she asked to be corrected.
That’s when I began to understand that hearing and listening are two different occupations. I can hear everything she is saying, but I’m not listening to what she is saying. I’m not quite sure how to connect these two things.
Finally, I began to understand what she meant. When she said, “Correct me if I’m wrong,” she was not asking for a correction but something completely different. She wanted to hear from me, “My dear, you are absolutely correct.”
I remember the first time I responded to her in like fashion. I still see the smile she had on her face when I said it. It was then I realized what she was looking for. She was not looking for my opinion but rather for my approval.
I began to understand what people meant when they said, “A happy wife is a happy family.”
It is like the old joke about Abraham Lincoln and his wife. Lincoln’s wife came to him and said, “Abe, does this dress make me look fat?” Fortunately, Honest Abe understood hearing and listening.
Throughout life, I have met many people obsessed with always being right. No matter what they are doing, they want to be recognized as doing it right.
Even though I’m still trying to develop a learning curve in this area, I have learned that my happiest days are not when I am right. I used to think they were, but I have graduated to a different understanding.
Recently, I noticed that The Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage has used the phrase, “Correct me if I’m wrong,” more times than I’ve ever heard her say that. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but at my level of understanding, I’m going to accept it and say to her every time, “Oh, my dear, you are absolutely correct.”
The smile on her face when I say that is very satisfying and worth my effort. I must make a choice in life: her smile or my being right. At my level of experience, I always choose the former.
She asks some other questions that I’m working on, and hopefully, I will accomplish my goal before I die. I will need to learn how to connect my ears with my brain. That will be my challenge for the New Year.
While thinking about this recently I remembered a very wonderful verse in the New Testament. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: (James 1:19).
I need to cultivate the fine art of listening. That simply means that I’m going to be slow to speak and only speak when I have thought through what I am hearing.
Dr. James L. Snyder lives in Ocala, FL with the Gracious Mistress of the Parsonage. Telephone 1-352-216-3025, e-mail email@example.com, website www.jamessnyderministries.com.