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Posts Tagged ‘listening to others’

We were excited, as we set out on our recent road trip from Sydney to the Omega Writers’ Conference at Kingscliff in northern NSW. We headed inland from Gloucester and reached Uralla on our first night, near Armidale. Eventually, we found our Air BnB in a lovely, rural setting, with horses in a paddock nearby and quietness all around. Now we could begin to relax!

While my husband rested, I sat reading, but suddenly noticed a nearby light go off. I went to investigate and found that all the power to the house was out. It had been an overcast day and this house relied on solar energy—maybe that was the problem?

Eventually, we located the owner who soon discovered there was a power outage in the whole area. Hmm! Undeterred, we decided to drive into the town to see if any restaurants were open, to no avail, so we headed back home and opted for a dinner of leftover sandwiches from lunch and a banana each!

But what to do then? There was no hot water for a shower and it was too cold to sit anywhere, without heating, so we headed for bed—at around 7.00pm! But as we lay there, we began talking—and talking—and talking. We went from one topic to another, as we recalled different events from our respective childhoods that had impacted us in some way. And in this time, my husband told me stories I am sure I have never heard before, in all our fifty-three years of marriage, about his maternal grandmother whom he loved and the kind things she used to say and do. How had we missed talking about such things before—at least at any depth? In the end, we both found it such a memorable way to spend an evening, but it set me thinking too.

What have we lost in our world in recent years, with all the technology available to us and all sorts of entertainment on TV or YouTube or Netflix or whatever there at hand each evening? What has happened to sitting and actually talking to one another? Has coming together around the dinner table chatting while we eat disappeared forever? How do we hear each other’s hearts and enter fully into others’ lives, when we stare at a TV screen instead and allow other voices to drown out any real communication between us?

As I thought about all this, I felt quite shocked and sad. That night, our conversation was rich and deep—what a wake-up call that power outage was for us! Yet this event also impacted me in another way, as I lay in the dark after my husband eventually fell asleep. How many of us have drowned out God’s voice too in our lives, as we abandon these times of stillness and silence and true communication with our heavenly Father? How often have I opted to allow other voices to take over my mind and heart, rather than listen to what God might want to say to me?

Let’s stop and listen well, because God has so much to say to us all.

I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—but let them not turn to folly. Psalm 85:8

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This past month, I discovered once again how life can have a way of springing interesting surprises on us! Out of the blue, I was asked if I would accompany the small choir in our Village on the piano. And in what was perhaps a weaker moment, I agreed!

What could have possessed me? After all, it’s a long time since I accompanied a choir or singing group—possibly around … ahem … thirty-five years! Yes, I have played for congregational worship in that time—but not a great deal, as I have felt those days too are over.  Yet I could not help but say yes when our lovely conductor phoned and asked if I would help out. Besides, I soon discovered how much we had in common, with our lifelong involvement in music and also with husbands who are both retired ministers.

In no time at all, I was given the music for five items the choir will sing at two Christmas concerts. Four of these turned out to be easy enough, but the fifth one saw me scurrying to the piano to practise. So many tricky twists and turns and unexpected key changes!

Then the moment came for my big return to accompanying.  Everyone was so welcoming—and so grateful to have someone prepared to play for them. I soon felt at ease, especially when I realised the group found that challenging carol even more challenging than I did! I kept my eye on our conductor—and I also tried to help everyone along, wafting up into the melody line at times when the tricky accompaniment was leading some astray. I knew my role as an accompanist was just that—to accompany the singers and enhance their efforts rather than try to outdo them in any way.

As I strolled home that afternoon, it dawned on me that accompanying others in a musical sense is a little like the style of mentoring or spiritual companionship I have tried to give others over the years and still do. As best I can, I endeavour to walk in step with them, to listen to them, to pray for them, to provide resources that may help them somehow and yes, perhaps even to challenge at times when needed.

Then I realised too what a big part the whole idea of accompanying has played in my own journey with God—and still does. Recently when I spoke somewhere, I shared the following quote from Clement of Alexandria:

Prayer is keeping company with God

This is the privilege you and I have as children of God—to walk hand in hand with Jesus each day, listening, learning, knowing we are loved and accepted, talking with him, receiving strength, comfort and guidance. Of course, the difference is that Jesus is the perfect Shepherd, who is also to be honoured and obeyed as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet by grace, he chooses to accompany us day by day through all our ups and downs.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-3

Now that’s the fine art of accompaniment at its best, don’t you think?

 

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I wonder if you have ever had the experience of not being fully listened to, just when you really needed someone else to understand how you felt? It can be annoying, can’t it—not to mention downright disappointing. Such experiences usually make me feel quite cranky—even to the extent of wanting to shake the other person and yell “Listen to me!” But so far I’ve managed to shut my mouth in time and smile more or less sweetly. And just as well, because I have a sneaking suspicion I might have done exactly the same thing to many others in the course of my life.

In recent weeks I have been unable to get out of the house much because of lower back trouble. Family members have been wonderful, doing many things I normally do and looking after me. And two friends in particular have visited and phoned regularly. I value both these women so highly. They went out of their way to spend time with me. And they truly listened and empathised. They put their own issues aside—of which they both have quite a number—and gave of themselves to me, for which I am very grateful.

A few days ago, I decided to try my back out and make the effort to mingle again with friends and acquaintances at a particular gathering. One or two had noticed I had not been around and welcomed me back. And another began to do the same, but our conversation soon morphed into a major litany of her own back issues. After listening for some time and becoming increasingly tired and sore, I expressed my concern for her and moved off. I then noticed another lady sitting at an awkward angle and enquired if she had back trouble. Sure enough, she did—and thus began another sad litany about her health issues. I told her I had noticed her because I had a sore back too, but this hardly seemed to register. And as I headed home, I found myself wondering if we had lost the art altogether of really listening and caring for others in their troubles rather than being so caught up in our own.

But as I lay down again with relief and prepared to wallow in my self-pity, some uncomfortable thoughts occurred to me. While I had been so busy searching for sympathy, how many others in even greater need had I missed noticing? Yes, one lady had caught my eye, but did my experience with her make me blind to others in equal need of empathy? And were those ones who had shared their troubles with me in much more need of comfort and understanding than I was? Maybe they didn’t have a loving family or two caring friends as I did.

And then I remembered the words of Philippians 2:4-5 that always seem to wake me up to myself:

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus …

That pretty much takes care of my wanting to shake people because they aren’t listening to all my woes, don’t you think? Perhaps instead if I humbled myself more often and made myself nothing, just as Jesus did, things would change around me.

Perhaps if we all did it, whole communities would change and believe.

Perhaps it truly is worth learning the art of being there for others, don’t you think?

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