I’m Not Listening

Back when my wife and I were living in California, we used to attend a church in the Van Nuys area. It was a wonderful, diverse community with many extraordinarily talented people among the congregants. Because of its proximity to Hollywood, many well-known actors and singers attended there. Even among the “regular” folks, there was an abundance of talent; and the music, regardless of style, was always a highlight of the service.

There was a musician there named Bill Thomas. He was extremely talented, but what really set him apart was his incredibly positive attitude. He always had a smile for everyone. What stuck out most of all about Bill was that he was always interested. Every time I would approach him, he always wanted to know what was going on with me. Whenever I tried to compliment him on how he played a piece of music, in no time at all he would have me talking about myself. One time when he got an acting role in a major film, I was determined to make the conversation about him. Yet, true to form, Bill had me talking about myself again. Bill made people feel important by putting others above himself. He was good at being interested.

We can’t listen if we’re talking about ourselves. Do you remember Al Franken’s old Saturday Night Live routine? He would start out by talking about an issue that affected everybody. Then he would say, “I know you’re all wondering how this affects me . .. Al Franken.” That’s the way a lot of us conduct ourselves in our conversations. While the other person is talking, we’re busy planning in our head what we’re going to say as soon as they finish their next sentence. In our minds, essentially, we are thinking, “I hear what you’re saying, but here’s what I think about that,” or “I hear what happened to you, but just wait until you hear what happened to me!”

In so doing, we can easily dismiss someone when they are trying to share something that is really important to them. We can miss the signals, not even realizing the person is trying to open up their heart to us. We can make them feel like they don’t matter. How do I know this? Because I have done it. How recently? Oh, probably yesterday—and that’s only if it is still the morning today.

It’s bad enough I do this to other people, but it doesn’t end there. I do it to God too. I get on a roll in my prayers and I give Him an earful. I can just see God thinking, “Steve, Steve, don’t you remember Psalm 46:10? Be still and knowthatIam God.”Let’s face it. Being still is not something we do very well in our contemporary culture. We have allowed technology to take away the margins of our lives. Down time? In this age of the “I” devices (I-phone, I-pad, I-pod), we’re available all the time. This can make it easy to fall into a self-serving, narcissistic loop where it becomes all about “I.”

If, as Scripture commands, I am going to love my neighbor as myself, first of all must put down my phone and look my neighbor in the eye. If I want people to feel valued—the way I felt valued whenever I talked to Bill—then I need to say less and listen more. And if I’m going to be still and know that God is God, then I am going to have to occasionally quiet myself in prayer, let go of my agenda, and seek God’s voice and face. Because if I’m talking, I’m not listening.

Steve Siler is the founder and director of Music for the Soul, a multi-award-winning ministry using songs and stories to bring the healing and hope of Christ to people in deep pain. An accomplished songwriter and music producer, Steve has had over 550 of his songs recorded. He won the Dove Award for Inspirational Song of the Year with “I Will Follow Christ.” His nine number one and 45 top 10 songs include “Circle of Friends” and “Not Too Far from Here.” Steve has spoken at the National Right to Life Convention, the American Association of Christian Counselors, and The National Center on Sexual Exploitation Summit, among others. He is the author of two books: The Praise & Worship Devotional and Music for the Soul, Healing for the Heart: Lessons from a Life in Song. You can learn more about Steve and Music for the Soul at www.musicforthesoul.org.

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