Noted writer and pastor, Charles Swindoll, once became so overwhelmed by too many commitments that he fell into a state of constant irritability and was totally distracted from what was going on around him including his family. “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day,” he recalled in his book, Stress Fractures. “Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable. I distinctly remember after supper one evening, the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important that had happened to her at school that day. She began hurriedly, ‘Daddy, I wanna tell you somethin’ and I’ll tell you really fast.’ Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, ‘Honey, you can tell me – and you don’t have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly.’ I’ll never forget her answer: ‘Then listen slowly.’”
Failure to listen – and listen slowly, attentively and with genuine interest and concern – may be one of the greatest deficiencies of our culture today. It is not for lack of opportunities to talk, however, for with cell phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of instant communication we have become in fact a bunch of chatter-boxes. Who’re missing are the listeners – the real listeners, that is, the ones who listen slowly as Swindoll’s daughter would say.
During a San Francisco study some years back, teenage prostitutes were being interviewed and asked this question: “Is there anything you needed most and couldn’t get?” The overwhelming response, invariably preceded by sadness and tears, was this: “What I needed most was someone to listen to me. Someone who cared enough to listen to me.”
What a generous, caring act it is to genuinely listen to another human being! And how tragic it can be when we fail to do so! “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak . . .” James says in his epistle (James 1:19); for as much as we continue to need better education to develop brilliant minds, great teachers, leaders, and experts in every field, what the world really needs is for all of us to become listeners.