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Message from the Link - Issue 14 August 2012

Dear Friends

What did you say?  I wonder how good you are at listening?

I know when my children were small; I developed the knack of appearing to listen to their seemingly endless observations and questions.  In fact I was often more engrossed in another task.  Sometimes I was caught out and my sons realised I wasn't paying attention to them at all.  My mind was elsewhere.

Listening is a very under-rated skill: note one that we work to develop; but maybe we should.  Perhaps it's one thing we should all learn to do well.  Many of us listen to grasp an opportunity to take over a conversation, to put in our two-penny's worth, to set the speaker right or toss in a joke breaking an uncomfortable moment of seriousness.

Listening demands concentration to really pay attention to what someone else is saying.  Our focus is on the other.  We need to put aside our own urge to argue, to dispute, to convince others of our point of view.  Listening is about trying to hear better what another person is saying, and why.  Sometimes we need to ask questions, to check out whether we've got it right.  And we may also need to be aware, to spot what is not being said.  there might be things that a person is afraid to say, even to themselves.  If we are able to give our wholehearted, undivided attention to this deep kind of listening we show a deep respect and love to the other person.

There's a close link between listening and loving!  As Christian communities we are called "to love one another as I have loved you".  In order to love as Jesus did, unconditionally, knowing and understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of his friends and foes, demands that we are able to love enough to listen to each other.  This applies to informal conversation and more formal meetings, with our family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

And it means listening to ourselves!  We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves:  listening to ourselves might be even harder for some of us than listening to another.  Many of us are quite good at hiding our deepest desires and fears from ourselves, maybe scared that they are not acceptable to others or to God.  Just as we might learn to truly listen to someone else:  a sign of love and respect, so others might offer that gift of listening to us.

I'm one of those people who doesn't know what I'm thinking until I've said it out loud.  I need someone who cares enough to listen to the thoughts I'm wrestling with.  Our Christian communities are called to provide a space where we love each enough to listen.  Indeed, listening may be the deepest compliment we can pay each other.

Shalom,
Sarah

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