Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear

My seven-year-old son is the scholar of the family. His vocabulary is more elevated, precise, and articulate than those of many adults I know. I can hardly keep up with his hunger and aptitude for learning—but he is short for his age and has a very slight build. He also has no instincts about how to move. His execution of gross motor skills is completely lacking in intentionality. He often collides with inanimate objects or falls off of them. When he runs he bears an unfortunate resemblance to four earth worms tied together at the top with a string.

My three year old, however, is kind of a barbarian. He has almost no attention span. He’s active and aggressive, with antagonistic and violent tendencies. He’s equally comfortable using charm and charisma or brute force to achieve his goals. He’s very coordinated and strong as an ox. He’s also tall and broad for his age—catching up with big brother quickly. A fact to which our seven year old (who aspires to strength and toughness like any boy) is all too savvy.

Yesterday, while watching the barbarian play, my husband remarked,

“He’s getting leaner and leaner all the time.”

The scholar was standing close enough to hear. He mumbled under his breath that he was the leader and began spastically shouting out orders at his big-little brother in order to assert his role as the commander in the mutant superhero game they were playing.

I guess what he heard my husband say was,

“He’s getting leader and leader every day.”

His already present fears about his brother’s growing stature and boldness caused him to hear words that weren’t even uttered.

It happens to all of us. When I am having a down day and my husband offers to take on some of my usual chores for me, I should hear “I love you honey and I’m sorry you’re feeling out of sorts. I want to do whatever I can to bless and encourage you.” Instead, on more than one occasion I have heard, “Since you are having a pity party and dropping the ball, I’ll take care of it for you.” You see, I already feel guilty for not serving my family like I usually do, so I run my thoughtful husband’s words through the defensive warp filter. My view of myself actually distorts my perception of my husband and his motives. I’m hearing the words correctly, but I’m not hearing the meaning behind them.

It isn’t restricted to domestic life either. Any two people having a conversation are likely functioning with some insecurities about themselves or misconceptions about the other person. Sometimes this baggage makes it impossible to judge one another’s conversation or responses accurately.  We hear what we already assume the other person thinks about us. We hear what we would mean if we said those words. Or we hear what the person we imagine we are talking to would say. And we don’t really hear each other.

I don’t want to miss out on seeing people because I am too concerned about how they see me. This is one of my struggles. It is difficult to see someone else’s heart when I’m busy protecting my own. God’s children are beautiful, complex, and rather amazing. It would be tragic indeed to forfeit depth and authenticity in relationships simply because I rendered myself incapable of hearing.

I am confident that I can grow better ears to hear others. I just have to practice wanting to know them more than I want them to like me. Duh, right? But I think it’s a timely reminder for me as I endeavor to build relationships with several hundred strangers in the next few months.

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4 thoughts on “Be Careful Little Ears What You Hear”

  1. My brother gave me a mug when we were emerging from our teens after a short lifetime of communication challenges. It said:
    “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.”
    I wrote about it once http://wonderingpreacher.wordpress.com/2010/07/02/silence-is-not-golden/ but I didn’t think of how our self image has such an influence on our listening.
    Anyway I agree with your Dad in another post. Your sensitivity, not just to your children but to people around you and to what God is saying to you, is an inspiration. I have added you to my site. I hope others also enjoy your journey.

    1. Thanks Ian. My dad is very glad to have an ally, I’m sure. 🙂 I believe sensitivity is a gift that God can and does use, but it can make life emotionally exhausting, especially if I give in to the temptation to make is self-focused. That is the rub.

      I am very pleased to have landed in African cyber-space. Blogging can be so fun sometimes!

      If your sermons are ever recorded, you should add some to your site. I’d love to have a listen sometime.

      BTW – I like the mug…and the post.

  2. So much of our history can filter what we hear and perceive. It (our history, experiences,…)becomes the basis that we judge everything else. When we are in Christ, we can see and perceive as He perceives. He is always able to look beyond and see the need-and meet it!

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