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.