Listening: a generous, powerful gift


Roberta RobbinsBy Roberta Robbins
Bishop Keaton, Cabinet Members, clergy, laity, honored guests, visitors, and my CLM colleagues.  Thank you for the invitation to speak this morning.  My understanding is that I am the first certified lay minister to address the annual conference.  My hope and prayer are that I will not be the last.
TGISaturday!  In looking around this morning, I see many pastors checking their smartphones more frequently.  Thoughts of “I need to get home for tomorrow’s worship services” exist. The laity is perhaps thinking, “Resolutions, resolutions, and more resolutions.”   Everyone is physically and mentally tired.
My purpose today is to briefly talk with you my personal discipleship; how I have trained others or experienced this myself.  As a certified lay minister, or CLM, I have been under church covenant to lead weekly worship services and provide music. Directing the yearly Vacation Bible School allowed me to work with children and adults for the purpose of instructing Christian development for children.  As a pastoral spouse, opportunities to share God’s love have primarily been when a loved one has passed away or someone discovers that I am married to a minister.  When the latter occurs, a shift to sharing high-level self-disclosures can happen because as one woman told me, “You are a pastor’s wife and can understand such things.” 

This morning, my remarks are based on a familiar scripture, Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  This scripture is a favorite because it is God’s way of politely telling me to “shut up and listen.”
Listening is what I do frequently in sharing the gospel and ministering to others.  As a communication teacher and scholar, I understand the value of listening.  It is the communication activity that most of us experience daily although we are notoriously bad listeners. According to researchers, when we listen to a message, we immediately forget 50% of the message.  After two weeks, we recall only 25 percent of the original message.  Part of this difficulty is due to the fact that our brains can work faster than our tongues in communicating a message. 
In conversations and meetings, more often people clamor to be heard, to prepare pithy statements that others will be impressed by or remember.  Yet, when actively or empathically listening to others, in other words, being in the moment and paying attention to what the other person is saying or emotionally reflecting, a person can find his or her voice by knowing that there is an attentive and caring person who will listen.
Rev. Guy Keysear in the Thursday video of retiring pastors, advised that listening is important to new pastors when particularly visiting with the lonely.   The late Dr. Maya Angelou once said that “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Listening is essential because if you are not generous with your ability to listen in that moment, our relationships with others and our ministries suffer.
“Be still, and know that I am God.”  We live in a din-filled world that can be plugged in 24/7 if we let it. (Examples of multitasking observations.) The static of our lives requires attention.  If we want to be better listeners, we need to focus on the other person.  Listening takes time and it takes effort.  Have you ever had a conversation with someone whom you considered to be a good listener?  What made this person a good listener?  I imagine that this person focused on you rather than themselves or the things around them.
When I was a little girl, my parents vacationed in Arizona during the Christmas break from school.  I was about 6 or 7 years old, and we were staying at a motel that had a pool.  My father and I had a daily early morning swim while my mother prepared breakfast.  One day, I was awakened particularly early for this swim for on this day, my parents, a friend of theirs, and I were going to go for a day trip to the desert.  I kinda thought that we were already in the desert.  Off we go…for the next hours that seemed an eternity for a young child, we drove through the hot, dusty Arizona desert. 
These grownups were really getting on my nerves with the sway of the car and their conversation.  I started seeing roadside gas stations that advertised sandwiches, pop, and ice cream.  I particularly noted the ice cream signs.  I asked my father, “Daddy, could we stop for an ice cream, please?”  “Sure honey. In a little while.”  More and more of these roadside locations were passed by.  A second time I said, “Daddy, could we please stop for an ice cream?”  “Sure, honey.  We will pretty soon.”  More locations were passed. 
Now, it is about 4:00 in the afternoon.  I have been traveling with these grownups in the hot and dusty Arizona desert since early morning.  They are really on my last nerve.  Finally, in exasperation, I say to my father, “Daddy, I want an ice cream cone and I want one now! Please?”  I don’t remember if I got that ice cream cone.  My only lasting impression of this “fun” day in the desert is that I wanted to be heard and to have some action taken.
We can parallel this childhood experience with our call to God. “I want God and I want Him now!”  “Aren’t you here, God?”  “You are supposed to be around when I need you.” 

Listening, perseverance, and self-control are good lessons for us in our search for God through Christ. These discipleship skills are precious commodities that God wants us to hone.  Debbie Macomber, in her book published in 2009, One Simple Act: Discovering the power of generosity, views listening as a powerful gift of generosity.  She notes the difficulties of listening but presents many more benefits to good, or generous, listening. When we generously listen to others, we benefit by increasing our own well-being, wisdom, and our ability to listen to God. 
By listening to what people tell us, we can better ask questions about what they need.

I had a conversation with a student lay servant about the difficulty of presenting a sermon.  The student kept talking about his nervousness and uncertainty in overcoming it.  Finally, I said to him, is it the presentation or your uncertain attitude of witnessing to people that really bothers you?  He said that it was his fear of witnessing to others.  We had an extensive conversation about feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty, and fear about witnessing to others.  If I had not focused on what this student was talking about, I would not have understood the question that he had.
Epictetus, a Greek philosopher, said, “Nature gave us one tongue and two ears so we could hear twice as much as we speak.”  Hanging on to this quote helps prepare us for a better attitude about listening.  An attitude of quietude, servitude, and Beatitudes are part of discipleship. Be still and know that I am God. Be still and know that I am God.  These words are my call to discipleship.  I don’t know if people see in me these tenets but they are my guideposts.
Shortly before she passed, Dr. Maya Angelou wrote, “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.”  I pray this morning that you will find your quietude and hear the voice of God so that you can be a disciple for Jesus Christ.  Let us pray.  Thank you, Heavenly Father, for this time together.  We are so thankful that you are with us and will never leave us.  To you we give the praise, honor, and glory.  In your Name we pray. Amen.