Theology in the Trenches
The Importance of Listening Well
It is with intentionality I introduce you to Jennie Denney who is living Theology in the Trenches. It is with permission that I share this at a time when the skill of listening is more important than ever. If you’d like to read more, please visit her at https://www.jenniedenney.com/
Yesterday I was in the middle of writing a paper when my son asked me if I would make him some popcorn. I told him no and that he could make himself some if he really wanted it.
He asked how, so I looked up from my paper and quickly listed off the directions:
“Take one of those cast-iron pots and put 3 Tablespoons of coconut oil in it. Add some kosher salt, pepper, and that red pepper Dad bought at the bottom of the pot. When the oil is all melted, add three popcorn kernels and put the lid on. When all three are popped, add a cup of kernels and shake the pot a few times then let the kernels pop till they’re done.”
He nodded his head and proceeded to make himself popcorn as he talked on the phone with his girlfriend. I returned to working away on my paper.
Pretty soon his dad came downstairs and went into the kitchen and asked what he was doing. Our son said I had told him how to make popcorn.
“How many kernels did you put in here?” Asked his dad as he looked inside the pot.
“Mom told me to put in three cups.”
“You told him three cups?”
A little confused at what I was hearing, I asked, “Three cups of what?”
“Peyton just told me you told him to put three cups of kernels into the pot.”
“What? I never said that!”
As I re-told our son the recipe, he shook his head vigorously insisting I told him three cups of kernels. He still thinks I told him three cups of kernels. I’m pretty sure he’d bet his life that my instructions included three cups of kernels.
As I was thinking over this story, I realized how common this is in communication. We can’t half-listen and understand what is being said. In order to fully engage in a conversation, we need to put down all the distractions and pay attention to the person speaking. Make eye contact. Be next to. Be with. Engage fully.
Yes, it would be easy for me to blame him and point out that he was not writing down the directions I gave him...or that he was still on the phone while I was giving him the directions...or that he was in the other room as I was giving him the recipe...but part of that is on me too. If I was able to take the time to look up from my paper and list off the directions to him, I had already disconnected myself from what I was doing enough to be able to go into the kitchen and be there with him to show him how to make the homemade popcorn for the first time.
In reality, I was not listening either. Listening takes two. It takes one to speak and one to be fully present. It takes eye contact. Presence. Engagement on both sides.
I can’t change the interaction, but I can review what happened and decide what I could have done differently. I can choose to learn and grow from that experience. I can realize my part in the conflict and choose to find ways to better listen next time...for that is true repentance: a change in direction. May I continue to grow in this area and learn to listen well to others.