For the hearts of the people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.
Matthew 13: 15
When my oldest daughter was four, she increasingly ignored my instructions, exclaiming that she had not heard me. I believed her and would then repeat my instructions to her. In addition she learned to sweetly say “I didn’t understand you mommy,” as she justified her disobedience. It worked. What parent doesn’t fight the temptation to grant their child a pass for disobedience if an excuse is seemingly apparent!
One day it dawned on me that my daughter was benefiting from NOT hearing me and that I was in fact training her not to listen.
This realization was a turning point in my parenting and likewise in Erin’s growth. I became determined to first make sure that I stated my directives to her clearly but also to hold her responsible, each and every time, to not only hear and also to understand what I had told her. Then I began to consistently extend undesirable consequences for not listening and understanding. It was difficult to do at first because I longed to extend her mercy. Erin however soon learned that hearing and understanding was a wiser choice– and a more beneficial course of action. Once she was expected to hear and understand, she learned to listen well not only to me but also to her teachers and she gained strong comprehension skills in the process. Her growth encouraged me to remain consistent not only with her but also with her younger siblings.
Today, I see a similar pattern taking place frequently in our school classrooms, with students opting out of assignments because they did not hear- or understand- the teacher’s instructions. In response, many parents and teacher actually believe that unless instructions are repeated, posted, and even readily available, students cannot be held accountable to follow through on something they are merely instructed about in the classroom.
We no longer assume kids are capable of following through with instructions or retaining information by merely auditory means. That’s alarming.
What defines a culture in which the population as a whole does not listen well? Could this define our youth culture today? Recently my son-in-law Peter, a campus evangelist at Texas State was engaged in a conversation about God with a student he had met on campus. Asking the student what his response was to what he had just shared, the student replied, “I wasn’t really listening to you.”
And what happens to our Christian community- and to our faith – when we our ears are closed to His voice? Over and over the scriptures say to “incline your ear to the Lord.” Incline means to slant, to persuade. It is a purposeful action.
When Jesus explained the parable of the seed in Matthew 13:18-23, he stated:
- “when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart.”
- “He who received the word on stony places; this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself but endures only for awhile”
- “He who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word and the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and he becomes unfruitful.”
Hearing God is vital to our lives. Each of the seven churches listed in Revelations, was told “he who has an ear let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.” How do we develop habits that support hearing and understanding God? How do we keep our ears open to Him? How do we maintain the ability to recognize His voice within us and thereby maintain the great blessing of fellowship with the Lord which keeps one’s heart alive and vibrant?
I believe that it begins with an inner quietness that allows for our ears to remain open to Him. We must practice stilling our own thoughts and emotions. Otherwise all we will hear are our own thoughts and reactions not only to circumstances but also to the stream of communications we receive each day. An inner quietness of mind is attentive in nature and flows out of a calm and quiet spirit. I am moved by the words of Christine Valters Paintner, a Benedictine Oblate, who says “cultivating silence is about making space for another voice to speak.” She refers to it as a presence rather than an absence. She says, “ I can be alone and in a quiet place but experience a great deal of inner noise or I can experience an inner calm in the midst of a crowded noisy setting.”
We must purposefully work to build attentive habits within ourselves that foster listening and understanding and we need to actively teach them to- and expect them from – our children. “A wise man will hear and increase learning. (Proverbs 1:5) while the “complacency of fools will destroy them….but whoever listens to me will dwell safely and will be secure without fear of evil.” (Proverbs 1:32-22)
- Enter your busy day by communing with God so that you begin each day with a calmness and stillness within. Don’t get in a habit of checking texts, emails, & Facebook first thing when you wake up. Doing so is the surest way to infuse your entire day with noise. Nourish your soul first even if you only have a few minutes. You will be far more inclined to hear Him in a state of calmness and stillness and your ears will remain more inclined toward Him all day long.
- Purpose to strengthen your listening skills and practice remembering what you hear from others. Actively listen to others.
- Purposefully work to increase prayer in your daily life. Nothing but your own response to distractions prevent you from praying. You pray as much as you want to.
- Refrain from purchasing internet devices for your kids until they exhibit the skills necessary to use them wisely: self control, patience, focus, and ability to delay gratification. Wisely limit their usage.
- Refrain from attending to your internet gadgets in the midst of conversations with others, at the dinner table and when doing things with your family.
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