by Elaine Voth
God has given me so much more insight into how I listen, through both the classes at King’s Fold, and the preparation of this assignment. He had been gradually revealing to me my self-absorption: my tendencies to control, to live in my head, and to analyze and figure things out, so that I could “get it right”. But this assignment took it a step further, and helped me to see my need to connect more with God and with my true self, my heart, when listening to myself and to others.
I’ve been a counsellor for years, so I thought I had quite good listening skills, but delving more deeply into this topic helped me to see my challenges when listening to others, and to God. I had been struggling with hearing God more consistently for a couple of years now. I so wanted to be able to hear Him as I went about my daily activities, but seemed to be blocked in this, except for the times when I actually sat down and took time just to be with Him.
As I listened in class to a fellow classmate for eight minutes, I recognized things that prevent me from listening with my heart to the heart of another. I so wanted to get all of the information, by pummelling the speaker with questions, in order to take the information, analyze it, figure it out, and come up with something helpful for the speaker to consider. I felt totally responsible for the session, and the outcome. It was very difficult to simply give the person space to tell her story.
Looking back at my life, I realize how I have allowed that role to become so familiar and expected as I interact with others. I took on the role as a young child, attempting to make my parents’ lives, and our family life, more tolerable. I have felt that it has been expected of me by my family of origin ever since. Whether or not this is true, I am no longer certain. Perhaps it was just the role I continued to fill, in my attempts to earn acceptance and love from my family. But as I think about it now, I wonder if it has done more to maintain distance in my family, rather than closeness. My self-righteousness has been a part of this, believing that I was the one who needed to share an illuminating experience, or come up with the “answer”, and yet never feeling that I’d done enough to alleviate all the pain in my family. These characteristics have been a huge part of my false self, keeping me from living in my heart, and thus, from being vulnerable and more truly open and loving, with my family as well as others. I see now how far I have often been from just resting in God, and trusting Him to be present with everything that is needed in each situation. It is not all about me!
I think I got a glimpse in class of how the listening itself is the actual gift to others, leaving me with less need to fix and solve things. I feel that if I can hold onto this, it will give me so much more freedom to just rest in God as I listen to others, knowing that it is He who gives any revelations that are needed, and often through the person themselves, rather than through me. This frees me from the burden of responsibility I have felt in my role as listener, and makes it possible for me to simply listen with my heart, in love, to the heart of the other, rather than to their words and facts. I’m excited about these new possibilities.
When I tried to consider how I listen to my own inner self in the midst of my day, new revelations came. I first thought, “I don’t really listen to myself”. But when I looked at this more closely, I realized that I definitely listen to some voice when I am at home on my own on a typical day. It is a voice that berates me and condemns me, ordering me to do more, work faster and harder, “get it right”, etc. This voice leaves me feeling anxious, frustrated, and totally on my own, separated from God, convinced that I will never do or be enough.
As God would have it, I received a newsletter from Brad Jersak, author of Can You Hear Me?, while I was preparing this paper. He addressed this issue, stating that he has always felt it necessary to discern whether or not it was God’s voice he was hearing, but had never considered needing to discern the other voice in his head, that masquerades as his. He said this is our old nature, or false self, and we need to learn to discern it, acknowledge it, and refuse to listen to it. Instead, we can give our full attention to God’s voice in us, and to the voice of our true self, our heart, that responds back to God in love.
For some reason this put it all together for me, and I saw as never before how my false self has been robbing me of intimacy with God. Just recognizing this seems to have given me so much more freedom already, in being able to disown the voice of my false self, and in so doing, hear my true self, and God’s own voice, interacting calmly and lovingly with each other. How I love this!! It is so new that I am not sure what the long term results will look like, but I feel confident now that God wanted me to move to this freedom, and will continue to bring me back to this place. I thank Him and praise Him for this! Perhaps I will be more aware as He gently nudges me away from listening to my false self, and encourages me to bring myself back, “with compassion, rather than self-loathing”(as was said in class), to listening to Him and to my heart.
God is helping me to recognize that I really am enough just as I am, because He made me, is with me, and loves me with all of my weaknesses. His strength is made perfect in my weaknesses. As I let the Holy Spirit deal with my stuff, my false self, I can learn to be receptive to the “huge knowing potential God has given us to know what’s going on in other people’s hearts,” as Jeff said in class. I look forward to this new way of being with people, and to the new way God has shown me of listening to my heart in my everyday life.
My prayer is that these new ways of listening will aid me in being able to listen to others as William Barry and William Connolly describe in this quote (p. 134) from The Practice of Spiritual Direction:
“Life does not seem to provide many opportunities to talk to someone who really listens and tries to understand. All of us seem to have too much on our minds to pay close attention to most other people. But spiritual directors make it their profession precisely to be listeners, to try to put aside their own cares, their own prejudices, their own desires for a place in the conversational sun in order to see the world through the eyes of this other person, to understand what he or she feels and experiences, and not judge.”
I am so grateful to God for showing me some of my major blocks to being able to truly listen from my heart.