Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen..."
Have you ever said something to someone and even though they heard you, you could tell they weren't getting it? Or, to take our pride out of the equation, let's flip it. Have you ever heard exactly what someone said, able to recite it word-for-word, yet totally missed the point of it all?
Recent research is showing that bad listening affects more than 70% of all work relationships, resulting in misunderstandings, missed opportunities, arguments, stalled projects and damaged relationships. I'm willing to bet those numbers are fairly consistent in family, church, and friend relationships as well.
In the above passage, a man who has been healed by Jesus is interrogated because the Pharisees are trying to figure out how to discredit Jesus. They continue to ask the man questions, but they have a ready response for everything he says. This proves to the man that they aren't actually wanting to listen. They have made their conclusions, and they're simply looking for bits of evidence to support it. He finally calls them on it (an incredible assertion of dignity from the poor and low to the powerful and mighty), telling them that he's already said everything, but they Aren't. Really. Listening.
The story has many more details... but for now, let's simply say that the Pharisees act really childish for being called out. We'd all prefer to see ourselves in the healed man's character, but the problem is how often we fall on the pharisee side of this story. Parents, for a minute consider the last time you asked, "Why would you do that?!?" to your child. Ya'll know that you have no interest in their answer, right? Admit it. (Yeah, me too.)
We often listen or ask questions with our own agendas and assumptions ready at the wings.
When the Apostle James writes to the collection of churches around Jerusalem, one of the first things he tells them is that they each should be "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (1:19). Why is being slow to speak so important in that list? Well, if we are "quick" (eager and willing) to listen to another, then we will be equally eager to understand what they are truly saying. We can't do that with a quick response. Instead it requires a slow, spirit-aware attitude that helps us see and feel what's really going on in another's life.
Doing this, we often become aware of hopes, fears, joys, and hurts that we would completely miss when our own agenda is leading the way, or when we've decided that we already know what someone is trying to say.
This discipleship skill is often lost in our fast paced, answer-driven world. When we really listen to others, we learn to also listen for God. That's what it means to listen up. We move slowly enough to enter into someone's story, inviting God to show us the heart, even beyond the specific words, and help us love well. We leave our agenda and assumptions behind.
This is what Jesus does with us. Jesus relates to what we are feeling with patience and slowness. He seeks to hear our heart. There is no rush as he listens to us, and no agenda beyond the offering of consistent grace and love again and again until it finally sinks into our thick heads. And when we are known and loved, it's then that we can live free.
We can't be Jesus to anyone. But we can imitate Jesus to everyone. And we can do our best to listen up. So as we listen to a friend, we ask for the Holy Spirit to help us see what matters. And as we respond in love, without agenda, we can play a role in helping each other live free as well.
Jesus, as I listen to others today, help me respond in love and understanding, with an ear to your voice.