The Art of Not Listening

Many good quality videos are available to help us learn the art of canning, knitting, and gardening.  I might watch one if I wasn’t struggling just to find time to mop the kitchen floor.  If I do have time someday to watch an instructional video, I know I’ll never find one about the art of not listening.  That’s because society has pretty much mastered that one already. 

While out walking with my kids, our greetings and salutations meet their untimely death in the round, black earbud-coffins of our neighbors’ ears. So many people have these tiny headphones stuck in their ears, that I have seen the alarming future of teaching anatomy and physiology.  In a diagram of the ear, we will see the ear drum, cochlea, stirrup, and little black circles labeled “earbuds.”

Embarrassing moments can occur when you hear someone, but you don’t really listen to what they are saying.  I’ve had my share of cringe-worthy scenes.

HAIRDRESSER:     Enjoy your new haircut!

ME:     You too! (cringe)

Sometimes when my kids talk to me, I’m not really listening.  My perceptive children can figure out when I’m overtired, and I’m sure they hold secret meetings to determine the best ways to get what they want.  By the time they approach me, it’s a done deal.

— Mommy, can we skip bedtime tonight and just go hang gliding in the Himalayas? 

–Sure, honey, whatever you want.  Here, take my car keys.  

They finally got their revenge when we gave them all personal CD players for Christmas.  At first when the three of them sat on the couch and listened to music through their headphones, I congratulated myself for the brilliant gift idea.  As they drifted off into musical reveries, I basked in the unfamiliar paradise of tranquility.  But when I had to speak to them, they were able to completely ignore me.  With music streaming into their ears, I had become the indistinct voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher.

Mwa-mwa-mwa, mwa-mwa-mwa.

Then they all began to talk loudly to each other without listening.  Nothing they said made any sense, but what does that really matter when you’re not listening anyway.

“CAN YOU HEAR ME?” Luke yelled to his brother.

 “NO!” Nate screamed back.

“YOU TOO!” Grace shrieked.

As my children sat there practicing the art of not listening, I thought about the times Jesus would say to his disciples, “Are you still so dull of hearing?”  Jesus had to present his lessons in parables, causing them to really think about what they were hearing.  What else can you do when your students act as though they forgot to remove the Q-Tips from their ears? I think if they had been wearing headphones, he would have flung them right over the side of the boat. 

Maybe they were visual learners.  Jesus didn’t have the option of giving a Power Point presentation.  The closest thing he had was drawing in the sand with a stick.  His students quickly learned that listening is a skill that needs to be practiced. 

Sometimes God has to speak to us many times before we hear him.  It would have been easier if He set us up like a giant Whac-a-Mole game, where he could just bop us on the head with a large mallet whenever we weren’t listening.  But He is really into this LOVE thing, so instead He does everything He can to get our attention, even when we just sit there with our headphones on, clueless in our own little world.

The Bible tells the record of young Samuel continually waking up his mentor, Eli the priest.  After hearing his name, Samuel kept popping out of bed and appearing at the side of Eli’s bed.  To Eli’s credit, he never lost his cool, but simply responded,  “I did not call; go back and lie down.”

After the third time, Eli finally realized that God had been calling the boy.  By this time, God must have been deliberating between writing on the wall with a laser beam or installing a P.A. system in Samuel’s bedroom.  Eli finally gave Samuel the advice he needed, and then rolled over and got some shut-eye.

It turns out that the key was that art form called listening.  The next time God called, Samuel was ready.

1 Samuel 3:10

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Instantly, God was able to give Samuel an ear-tingling revelation.  But it was only when Samuel was ready to truly listen. 

My four-year-old got upset with me this week when he was trying to tell me a story, and I listened while cleaning the kitchen.

“Mommy,” Nate fumed, “You are not LISTENING to me.”

“Yes, I am,” I replied, “I heard you.” 

“No, you need to LOOK at me and listen.”

He quickly taught me the difference between hearing and listening.  People who are hard of hearing do not choose to be that way.  Being “hard of listening” is a choice.

In Psalm 81, God laments, “If my people would but listen to me…”

Imagine if everyone would but listen to each other.  Earbuds would be thrown to the wayside, right next to the dying art of not listening.


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