Listen UP – A Word on Active Listening in a Family
I struggle with being overly talkative sometimes. You’re probably not the least bit surprised by that. I am woman, hear me roar…right? I mean, we adults all have a lot on our minds, and someone needs to hear about it. How do we negotiate our desire to speak with our passage this week? Won’t we be missing out on something if we don’t speak up when we have an important or interesting thought? Let’s remember that God loves us more than anyone could, and does not want us to miss out on anything good. We may, however, miss out on plenty of negative things if we know when to hold our tongues.
God’s Word in Ecclesiastes instills in us the right of silence to prevail at times. If there is any doubt that often quiet is preferable to God, there are many Scriptures that teach us about the foolishness of talking too much, such as Proverbs 10:19 and Matthew 12:36. Though it may not come naturally for you, this week and always, let’s try to model for our children our ability to listen as well as to speak. This can be done through showing your husband or wife reverence by lack of interruptions when he is speaking, by looking your children in the eye when they speak to you instead of at the computer, a text message, or a television program, or just by letting them observe you quietly sitting and enjoying a cup of tea. They will remember the images of us, their mothers and fathers that they see the most frequently. May it not be of us talking incessantly, interrupting them or their spouse, or glued to the phone or computer.
Don’t beat yourself up for being talkative this week, instead focus on being more intentional with your words. God made you to communicate after all, and that’s to be celebrated, not stifled. If it doesn’t seem natural to slow down verbally, try to read the nonverbal/body language of others around to see if you are overwhelming them today. If so, take a step back, breathe and be a great role model of temperance (patience) with yourself, your spouse and your children this week
Likewise, we must remember that God also says in this same passage, that there is a time to speak. In these times, when you feel the Holy Spirit’s nudge to use your strong voice, trust the Lord to provide, even if you are fearful. It is especially important to speak when we see a child being hurt, when our spouses, children or friends needs a good word, in our teaching and in our work life, and to stand up for someone being violated in any way. I want to encourage you that even when you don’t know the right words to say in a major situation, pray, or listen UP (as in upward to God). Luke 12:12 encourages us not to worry or fear, “for the Holy Spirit in that very hour what you ought to say.” We can then, take the step of faith together, knowing that we have the best possible footing in God’s Word and promise of protection for our every word and work.
Kids Can Too!!
Though learning temperance may take a lifetime, start your children young! One way, in addition to modeling temperance, is to have the kids practice this simple reflective listening exercise, taught by many counselors to establish a strong listening and compassion base with arguing families.
Taking one child at a time, tell them you are going to teach them how to be a really good listener. Tell them you want to them to tell you something that has been hard for them lately. Facing them, repeat back what you have heard from them, but say it in slightly different words. For example, depending on what you heard, you might say, “I heard you saying that you feel bored lately since your brother is at camp.” Your child may wonder at your repetition, but let them know you did this because when they say something important, you want to make sure you heard it correctly, and to make sure he or she felt understood. Try to do this back and forth a few times with happy and hard thoughts both, and let your child know that as much as you really want to hear them, you also want them to hear you when you are speaking to them, and may ask them to do this “true listening” exercise from time to time. For younger children you can even hold up a mirror to help them to remember the reflective/true listening concept. If you want to prove your point further, a quick game of “Telephone” can illustrate how easily words can be misinterpreted, especially if you have a larger family.
Ask your spouse about his day or how he is doing sometime this week, with the entire family present. If the kids ask you a question or interrupt during your conversation in person or on the phone, send them off. Don’t interrupt your spouse until he or she gives you the non-verbal signal that they are done speaking. If he or she expresses joy or frustration, try to empathize with or mirror what you heard them saying, when the time comes. Try to not correct anything he or she said or “one up” them with your news. Try to do this each day this week, around the same time.
If this consideratate conversation style becomes a habit, don’t be surprised if you notice your spouse opening up more, feeling safer with you, or being in a better mood. A man or woman who feels appreciated usually treats his or her family with protective and special set-apart love. If it helps, designate a certain place in the house or your yard (ex: the bench in the garden) for your special conversation time with your spouse after work, so you model respect for your spouse’s winding down time, and your children recognize a time when they are supposed to wait and allow the grown ups to have conversation, too!
-Excerpt/Modified by Christa M. Hardin’s, Help for the H- Hero, 2013.