August 20, 2010

The Joyful Catholic / Rick Hermann

Give and receive the gift of listening in our lives

Rick HermannAn old man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem.

So one night he stood behind her while she was sitting in her lounge chair.

He spoke softly to her, “Honey, can you hear me?” There was no response.

He moved a little closer and said again, “Honey, can you hear me?” Still, there was no response.

Finally, he moved right behind her and shouted, “Honey, can you hear me?”

She replied, “For the third time, yes!”

Some people, like this couple, are hard of hearing and it is hard to communicate with them.

But it is much more difficult to communicate with people who lack the desire to hear.

Such individuals can talk all day about themselves, but they have little interest in listening to others.

Like a handicapped person sitting in a wheelchair, some people are actually incapable of listening to anyone else, even someone they love.

To our surprise and dismay, these people may be our spouses, parents, children, co-workers, priests, teachers or friends.

We try every possible way to communicate with them, but nothing seems to work.

We want to help them, we try to assist them, but they choose not to listen. They may be so sure of themselves that they consider it a sign of weakness to accept another person’s opinion.

Ironically, they do not realize that we can help liberate them from their self-made prisons.

They are convinced that they know best. They lack the gift of empathy.

This “mule-headed” attitude was expressed by Theodore Roosevelt when he said, “I don’t know what other people think, I only know what they should think.”

People like this can become great leaders and attain worldly prosperity, but their selfishness can make life unpleasant for the rest of us.

Consider St. Paul, who single-mindedly pursued the early Christians to persecute them. He thought he was doing the right thing and helping the Roman Empire.

It took an act of God to snap Paul out of it on the road to Damascus. Then the scales fell from his eyes, and he was born again.

Remember that the frustration you feel toward obstinate people is the same way that God feels toward you at times.

Am I stubborn? Has anyone told me recently that I am not listening? How can I be a better listener? Have I been on my knees today to listen to God?

The Bible is full of stories about people who refused to listen to God. Again and again, God implores us to listen:

“Be careful to listen to all these words which I command you, so that it may be well with you and your offspring forever” (Dt 12:28).

Adam and Eve refused to listen to God’s loving instructions, and we feel the painful consequences today.

Similarly, the Israelites turned away from God to worship golden idols, and thus wandered in the desert for 40 years.

Jonah detoured from his mission and was swallowed by a whale.

The disciples exasperated Jesus by failing to hear his message.

The good news is that once we turn to God and lend him our ears, we gain wisdom to listen to others and our relationships blossom like flowers.

God promises to listen to us when we pray. Perhaps we can return the favor by listening to others.

Oh Lord, make me a better listener. Open my ears and let me hear your voice. Give me empathy and a desire to ease the burden of others by listening to them.

(Rick Hermann of St. Louis is a Catholic author and career coach. His e-mail address is

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