Monday, November 22, 2010

What I Really Want For Christmas

Very soon I will need to answer the "what do you want for Christmas?" question.  Hmm....

What I would REALLY like for Christmas, if someone could give it to me, would be the gift of being a good listener.

This morning when I pulled up in her driveway to take my granddaughter to school, my daughter-in-law greeted me with a smile, "There's no school today.....remember.... I told you last week."  I remembered the conversation, but I had been so focused on the piece that was the answer to my immediate  question, that I did not take in or remember the other school schedule details she had given me.

At least twice within the last week, my husband has brought to my attention something he told me earlier  of which I claimed no awareness.  I could remember one of them after he jogged my memory with particulars of the conversation, but the other two were lost somewhere in non-listening or non-hearing land.

To some charges of not listening, I can protest "But I can't hear you when you talk to me from the other room or while you're walking away from me or while I'm working in the kitchen next to running water or appliances - you know I can't hear you over those noises."  Because those things are all true.   I do have some hearing loss, and I have great difficulty discerning conversation correctly in a crowded room with much ambient noise.

But it is also true that I often don't pay enough attention when someone speaks to me.  I don't zone in to his/her words soon enough or stay focused long enough.  I am all too often a lazy listener, moving my focus, without my notice, between the speaker and my thoughts.  I am always thinking, reasoning, figuring something out, connecting ideas.  That can be a good characteristic, but it can also be a major impediment to effective listening.

I remember seeing a picture definition of the character trait of "attentive" when our boys were young:  a line drawing of two children in a small tent, with alert eyes and cocked ears, listening, listening to a coyote howling at the moon.  I've spent decades learning to listen to God.....but how much real practice have I given to the discipline of listening well to His people?

I've wanted to be, tried to be a better people listener for a number of years be able to routinely give whoever is speaking to me the gift of my full attention.  But honestly, some days I don't think I've made any progress.

Perhaps carrying pen and paper to write details of what others say to me would help me focus - I usually took superlative notes during class lectures and sermons in church.   Perhaps I should ask my family members to give me pop quizzes on what they've said to me - maybe repeated poor grades would motivate me.   Perhaps someone else has an idea that can help me learn this discipline.  Because I'm pretty sure its not a gift I'll find under my tree this Christmas.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Character Mirrors on Multitude Monday

holy experience

A brief conversation with my husband got me thinking about how grateful I am for some of the "Character Mirrors" in my life.  A "character mirror" to me is any person who or circumstance that holds up a mirror to me, so I have the opportunity to see what I look like to them (and very possibly to God, also :-).  

I've been a bit slow and resistant at times to pay attention to those mirrors, especially when the the people who held those mirrors were people whose actions and life choices I didn't  respect, or whose messages were delivered in ways that seemed harsh or hurtful to me.   My loss - I've learned that valuable critiques can come from those character mirrors, too, if I will humble myself and turn my head to gaze into their mirror, then look inside myself and to God for confirmation, clarification and correction.

So, I thought I'd post and give thanks for a few of the memorable "character mirrors" from my life thus far for my Multitude Monday gratitude exercise:

1.  A high school friend who rebuked me sharply for telling someone else something he had told me in confidence.  That was my adult introduction to the importance of guarding confidences - something that was an absolute basic requirement for the prayer and mentoring work I would do decades later.

2.  A young mother who slammed me openly in a small group of women for leading a  Bible study and NOT controlling/disciplining my young sons in the other room to her satisfaction.  I learned I would not be allowed to influence others the way I wanted, if I did not have their respect.  A KEY principle I needed to learn.

3.  How I wish I had taken a good hard look when my brother-in-law first told me I was a know-it-all at the family dinner table.....was he ever correct!

4.  Luckily, for me, I DID pay attention when he told me, years later, that I always had to be RIGHT (in any disputed matter).  That comment pierced my pride and became God's surgical knife that opened an infected area of my past for careful examination, my choice to forgive, and huge healing to my psyche, which I had been praying about for years. 

5.  A car trip, during which, my husband and sons listened to me rant about a relative, then told me my reactions were quite out-of-proportion to the "offense" she had committed.  I initially strongly denied it, but had the sense later to look long enough in the mirror they held up and to choose to "step back" and "jet down" from my anger.  Not until much later did I realize I had made a scapegoat of the person I'd been so angry with to avoid confronting the woman I was really angry with and risk a close relationship being destroyed.  That SELF-DECEPTION was so powerful and effective, that it has slowed me down in "pronouncing judgement" many times since then.

I've got many others, but you get the idea....:-)

I think listing more of these people mirrors as well as circumstance character mirrors would be a fruitful thanksgiving discipline for me.  How about you?

(This picture was originally for a post idea that was to be titled "What person, in their right mind, would pay good money for these?"  The rhetorical answer was SO obvious...... why waste time writing it?