March is International Listening Awareness Month. The International Listening Association (ILA) identifies this as a time in which we can focus on boosting our personal and professional relationships through improving our listening skills. The organization approximates that we retain only 10 to 20 percent of what we hear people say to us. Yikes!
This little tidbit leads us to our one-word Jesus command for this week's Lenten installation. Today, we center on his guidance to "listen."
Long before the existence of the ILA, Jesus was keenly aware of the value of listening.
"Then pay attention to how you listen," Jesus says to a group of his disciples midway through the Gospel of Luke. It's all too easy to listen without paying attention. In one ear and out the other.
The ability to listen is important. It's how we learn. It's how we connect and relate. Without real listening, it's difficult to grow.
To truly listen is to understand, to perceive, to attend to, and to hear. In the Gospels, Jesus often says, "Whoever has ears, let them listen." He also says, "Listen and understand," "listen to this parable," and "listen carefully." Jesus wants his words to matter; he wants people to truly hear them and digest them, so that they can then share them with others.
Listening remains an integral part of our lives of faith today. When I ponder Jesus' guidance, "Pay attention to how you listen," I realize that this is an area that I sometimes overlook.
I had an unexpected opportunity to listen to God's voice a few weeks ago on Ash Wednesday. My platelets were suddenly back down to 1 again, so I spent most of the day and evening at the Infusion Therapy Center. I was really grouchy with God for cramping my Ash Wednesday style because it's one of my favorite worship services of the church year, and I was also peeved because I still have a condition I'd be happy to do without.
On my way home from the hospital, I stopped for a few groceries at Target. I meant to grab three things, but ended up with about 20. I had filled up the store's red, plastic carrying basket to the point of overflowing. As I approached the register, I noticed a father and his young daughter in front of me in line. She looked to be about four with long braids and a Hello Kitty hat and gloves.
We made eye contact and she watched as I heaved my basket onto the moving check-out counter. "Well," she said, "you put too much in there. It's too heavy. You're going to need some help. Someone is going to need to help you." We were strangers, but she looked right at me with a familiar, matter-of-fact nod and tilt of the head. Her dad looked over with a smile as he ran his credit card through the machine to pay for their items.
"You're right," I agreed. "I did. Why did I put so much in here? Why am I trying to carry so much?"
"My name is Lily. What's your name?"
"Emily. My name is Emily."
We talked a bit more. About the contents of my cart. The cross of ashes on my forehead placed there by Chaplain Kitty. And that was it. She and her dad headed out the exit, but not before I heard her yell: "Bye, Emily! Bye!"
Her words were so true. I had too much in my life basket, and I was trying to take care of it all on my own. And as I listened to Lily's wisdom, I heard Jesus' words of compassion ringing in my ears, "Come to me all who are weary and carrying heavy burdens (or heavy Target baskets), and I will give you rest."
To listen is to connect. Jesus invites us to hear his words — not in a legalistic way, but in a relational way! May you listen this week and hear his voice.