The Gift of Listening

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.   Proverbs 18:13 Listen first. Then speak. That was Jef Fowler’s  advice to me early in my employment at Veritas Academy. As I would go to him seeking advice on how to address an issue, whether it was with a student, a teacher or a parent, his counsel always began in the same manner: “Make sure to begin by listening attentively. “ I have to admit that at times, I actually believed I needed to get my opinions out quickly in the event I ran out of time. (I think Jef knew this about me!) I learned, however, that the most important way I can actually help another was to give ample time to attentive listening. This gives the person a chance to sort through their feelings and thoughts as they talk through them. Often what they need most is not my “brilliant” advice but a sounding board by which to think through things themselves and to apply what they already knew to be right to their circumstances. If I accomplish nothing else, this in and of itself is the most important aspect of these conversations. Furthermore, by first listening attentively, what I actually have to say is far more applicable to their circumstances. Here’s what Jan Johnson has to say about listening in her inspiring book Invitation to the Jesus Life: “To listen deeply can be a struggle because we have to let go of our agenda and the need to defend ourselves or the desire to persuade people to see things our way....

The Rule Above All Rules

On Tuesdays I hold “Oma School” for my grandkids who attend Veritas Academy. On the very first Tuesday, I told them we would be abiding by just one rule this year. “Just one?” they whispered, glancing at each other with amusement. “What rule do you think that should be?” I asked them.                “Not interrupt?”                “Pay attention?”                “Work diligently?” I chuckled silently as they chose rules that had applied to them personally the previous school year.  “These are all good ideas,” I replied, “but you are all wrong.” “This year we are going to abide by the one rule spoken by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:12), ”  I told them. So whatever you wish that others would to you, do also to them. “Now that sounds pretty simple doesn’t it?” I asked them. “But it actually means doing ALL those things you mentioned earlier.” I went on to explain how in Galatians 5:14 this same rule is defined this way: “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  It means thinking of others and not just yourself. It’s choosing honor and justice for those around you as much as you desire it for yourself. Sometimes it’s even choosing grace rather than what you think others deserve. The day played out pretty nicely. I had plenty of opportunity to also acknowledge “golden” moments.  Then each time they interrupted or argued, or chose to not listen to instruction, I...

Mini Blog #12: Eye Contact – a Simple Way to Connect

Loving our children comes without effort but connecting with them can be challenging in the midst of fast paced days. One simple way to foster connection is to increase your eye-to-eye contact with them. As mentioned in last week’s blog, your sons and daughters need to know how precious they are in your eyes. This week’s blog is about expressing this with your eyes. Something powerful takes place when two people gaze into each other’s eyes. Gazing into each other’s eyes says, “I care about you. I see you. Let’s understand each other.” Thus with our eyes we encourage close relationships, because to be valued, to be noticed, and to be understood are all key to maintaining connection. What a mystery our eyes are. Not only are our eyes a marvelous creation, but they convey so very much.  With our eyes we convey emotion, express interest, and build rapport. On the other hand, by neglecting or refusing to give eye contact we convey disinterest as well as coldness. Avoiding eye contact keeps others at a distance. Child development specialists are concerned about the diminishing amount of eye contact many infants receive because parents opt to gaze at their devices during feeding time instead of at their child. They have come to realize that eye contact is vital for babies because it enhances emotional attachment.  When my grandchildren have done something wrong, they won’t look into my eyes. Refusing to give me eye contact is one way they declare, “I am not going to listen – or give in.  I don’t want you to see me right now.” They deny me...

Mini Blog #11: Pay Attention to What You Want to Grow

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. Proverbs 25:11   Four-year-old William gets plenty of correction and scoldings. Because of his impulsive, active nature, it feels appropriate to stay on him and to correct his every stray action – for his safety alone. However his spirit begins to whither under such scrutiny. The moment I find opportunities to express delight or speak affirmingly to him as well, his brown eyes light up and he struggles to hold back a smile. Then with his head held high, he becomes more complaint. At least for awhile! Like Will, a few of my other grandchildren are emotion driven as well. They tend to do what they want to do when they want to do it. Their actions are often steered by their emotions alone and in the midst of battles, they seem to have an innate need to gain dramatic reactions from others. Therefore, when we respond more intensely to their naughty behaviors than we do to their good behaviors, we wind up reinforcing exactly the opposite of what we want to see happen.  What we give our energy and attention to will grow. Just like our fears and worries, which grow when we feed them with attention, so it is with the behaviors of our children. Of course it’s our responsibility as parents to train and correct our children. They certainly need us to stand as loving authorities in their lives as they mature and grow. However, an even higher duty is to regularly encourage them and intentionally affirm them by speaking words of...

The Gift of Love

  But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8   I recently attended a wedding during which the bride and groom exchanged vows they themselves had written. The words were heart felt and inspiring. The bride actually put her words into a song and surprised everyone by singing them directly to her husband-to-be. I doubt there was a dry eye in the place. Both her words and his were about a commitment to love each other well for a lifetime.  For a bride and groom at a wedding, it’s hard to imagine anything but happiness together, but then life begins to happen. Selfish people marry selfish people and all too often marital bliss turns into an endless battleground in which both are wounded repeatedly. Selfishness is our greatest human struggle and nowhere is this clearer than right in our homes with those we supposedly love the most. There we make daily decision out of love for ourselves or out of love for others. Couples who choose to walk in God’s love however focus not on seeking their own happiness but on taking good care of the other flawed individual they have chosen to share their lives with. When each person chooses the happiness of his or her spouse over enjoyment for self, marriage becomes a reflection of God’s love, and joy is the outcome for both.  The most dynamic way to show our kids God’s love is to demonstrate it to each other. Regardless of your spouse’s temperament or how much he or she annoys you. Regardless...

The Paradox: The fear of the Lord is the fountain of life, yet perfect love casts out fear!

What were you like as an 18 year old when you graduated from high school? And how mature were you in your faith? As parents and educators we play a vital role in preparing our children for their futures, and as I consider the students at Veritas Academy, I wonder mostly if we will have painted an accurate picture of Christ for them. I remember back to my own growing up years and what it was like to graduate, leave home, and enter the college scene. I left for college believing God existed and that I should strive to please Him but I knew little else. My parents were not believers at the time, nor did they know what was really going on in my life or what I was learning.  With no adult who took a personal interest in my growth, it left space for an abusive guy to step in and I left for college in part to run away from him. My first years in college included months of inner turmoil that I shared with no one, not even my roommates. Thankfully, I had been introduced to a Christian group on campus and for the first time was reading the Bible, learning about God’s nature, and considering the condition of my own heart. Because I didn’t see God as one who loved me personally, this examination initiated shame and caused me to feel unworthy in light of His holiness. I began to grow a fear of God as I learned more about His divine, holy and sovereign nature. In light of His perfection, I also understood...