“Ben, STOP!” I hollered at my son who was charging across the parking lot to toward a friend. He ignored me in his rush to see his buddy and I held my breath, praying that no one would back out of their parking spot as he raced between the rows of cars. He was single-minded in pursuit of connection, heedless of the consequences while I sprouted a few more gray hairs as I hurried to catch up.
I have been on the receiving end of conversations like this, where people are so focused on sharing all about themselves that they charge ahead through our time together, never stopping to consider that there is another person with needs and wishes and dreams sitting across from them, longing for someone to care.
Too many people feel that they have to pay a counselor to listen and understand them, simply because they can’t find that kind of safety among their friends and family.
Do you long for deeper connections with people? Or maybe with God? For many of us, the isolation of this past year has left us feeling disconnected and lonely. Video calls have been a poor substitute for the connections we need. Restoring relationships and forging new ones is going to take effort.
When children are young we teach them how to safely cross a road by telling them to stop, look and listen. We teach them to stop in their headlong race to their destination, look carefully for traffic, and listen attentively for the sound of an engine. Only after they do these things can they safely cross the road over to what lies beyond.
Stop, look, and listen is also good advice for all of us who desire to cross the roads between us – the divides that separate us – but don’t know how to make that happen.
And finally, stop, look and listen is excellent advice for those who want to know God better.
Stop. Put your phone down. Stop building your shopping list, your rebuttal or your case. We have a tendency to listen half-heartedly, giving more importance to our own thoughts than those of the precious person sitting across from us. A good listener sets aside their agenda and their distractions in order to offer the sacrifice of attention.
Stop. Don’t rush into God’s presence but instead take a moment to quiet yourself. You are on holy ground and waiting a few minutes to acknowledge that is proper, as well as healing.
Jesus gently corrected His friend Martha who was “distracted with all the preparations.” They were good and necessary preparations, probably. But taking a few moments to listen to the Son of God speak words of life was even more important.
Look. Look at the person’s eyes. Not your phone, not the tv, not the clock. Give them your full attention. Notice the dark circles under their eyes, the tightness around their lips, or their hunched shoulders. Notice the beauty of their smile, how their eyes light with passion over the discussion or how they fill with tears. A poet once said that the eyes are the window to the soul. Do you want to really know someone? Look them in the eyes.
Look. Look at the words of God. Gaze deeply into their beauty, their shocking stories, their wisdom and challenge. Read with a heart to know God. He is speaking – read His heart.
Listen. Listen to the person’s words, yes, but also to their heart. What are they trying to communicate? What are they hesitating to share? What lights them up inside? Listen carefully and comment on what you hear.
Listen. Listen carefully to the voice of God. He speaks to those who listen. The Bible’s words leap off the page. He shouts through creation – take care to notice.
These simple steps can lead to healing for an aching loneliness or fear; and to a mending of the divides in our families, our workplaces, our churches and even our society.
They can also help us develop the deeper connection to God that our souls crave, but too often we are so busy giving him our lists that silence feels awkward.
It is an extraordinary treasure to be with someone who wants to know you rather than use you as their sounding board. We honor others by giving them the gift of our time and attention.
Stop. Look. Listen. Be the eyes and ears and heart of Jesus in this fractured world. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Winning the debate or arguing your point may convince others of your opinions, but it will not touch their souls.
Stop. Look. Listen. God is speaking in each leaf and flower, in every sunset and morning star. He is also waiting – waiting for us to draw close, in silence as well as in words, knowing that He is listening ever so closely, ever so attentively, to the cries of our hearts.