There’s an interesting verse in the Bible that says “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry.” I think this is one of those wise sayings that most people nod in agreement and believe everyone should practice…everyone else, of course. As a country – inside and outside politics, inside and outside the church, inside and outside of communities, families and friendships, there seems to be an epidemic of angry words and actions on almost every front. It appears that few are listening, all are talking and many are angry.
So back to the verse. I may not have a solution for the masses, but I do think individually we can choose a better way and thereby make a difference. Perhaps as each of us chooses to listen longer it will begin to impact our little corner of the world. It sounds like a simple equation: listen more, talk less and don’t get angry. Why is it so difficult to do?
Having been married for 39 years and raising two kids, I know that I developed habits with my family where I assumed I knew what they would say and I was ready with advice, correction or a sermon. (No, it was not requested by my audience.) With Budd, it was a slow learning curve to learn to listen not just to his words, but to listen for his heart and intent. Taking that time kept me from saying way too much before I even knew what the topic really was. Anger came when I began to respond without care and then he responded and then I…. Budd and I ultimately got much better at listening before we spoke.
This issue played out countless times as I sat with couples in crisis, families in chaos and friends at odds. Most often it seems that our failure to listen comes out of fear. Fear of losing control, fear of being wrong, fear of having to change…so many ways we fail to listen because we feel we must win to survive. Sadly, in those situations no one wins and few relationships survive.
Perhaps an important consideration is the idea of trust…trusting the other person enough to let them express themselves. Understand, you don’t have to agree with a person in order to let them be heard. But I guarantee you that when you do speak you will sound kinder, wiser and more likely to have your words heard and understood. Someone has to start the new pattern. Why not have it be you.
I once counseled a couple who were in a difficult season in their marriage. One recurring issue was his ongoing failure to call her when he was going to be late home from work. He said, “I just forgot! I was thinking about my work project and it didn’t occur to me! Why is it such a big deal?” As the three of us talked about it, it came to this: when she was in elementary school her mother would often forget to pick her up. She would stand on the curb after everyone else was gone, beside an irritated teacher who also wanted to go home. Suddenly, the lights when on for this couple in counseling – she just wanted to know he was on his way. To their credit, they owned it and committed to do much better at communicating. It was not a huge thing to fix but it required longer listening on both sides. The outcome was worth all of it.
In your personal life, what would it take for you to practice listening longer and hearing what is said before you respond? If you’ve not done it much you will probably need to practice and develop that ‘listening muscle.’ Instead of assuming you know what ‘they’ are going to say anyway, why not actually listen with a more open mind and a bit of grace? Imagine if our children as they grow up in our home felt heard and understood even when they didn’t get what they wanted. What about the workplace or classroom? Neighbors and friends? I am ashamed to admit the number of times I have judged people by what I assumed about them based on their appearance, language or friends. Over and over I have experienced an “aha” moment when I finally heard their story and could see them with grace. How amazing it would be if I assumed the best until I knew the whole story, until I listened longer.
I invite you to join me on a campaign to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to get angry. Whatever our differences…and they are many…I pray that our words would be saturated with grace and understanding, and lead us to peace.
Here are a few verses that tell us pretty directly what it means to control our words! Oy vey…
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.
If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.
Then keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies!
Those who control their tongue will have a long life, opening your mouth can ruin everything.
Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.
Ears to hear and eyes to see—both are gifts from the Lord.
Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.
We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. 4 And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. 5 In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. 6 And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
7 People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, 8 but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. 9 Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. 10 And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! 11 Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? 12 Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.