Last post I mentioned talking as a way to relieve pressure in your life. Not just aimless prattling, but positive, intentional conversations with the Lord, friends and family. However, it is a one-way conversation (actually it can hardly be called a conversation) if I do all the talking and the other party does all the listening.
God is the Great Listener - the best, the ultimate. Although we are taught to say our prayers, at bedtime, at dinner, etc., I do not ever recall being taught to listen for God's responses to my prayers. Wait? Yes. Hope? Yes. But listen? Not really.
During the years I taught corporate communications, we spent lots of time going over how to speak up appropriately in meetings and how to write an articulate memo in order to give your idea the best chance of fair consideration. In other words, talking. I worked in a mid-sized company of around 1,200 employees and each person could sign up for the class or classes they felt would be most helpful in their daily work.
Because so much of my time was spent sorting out miscommunication in the workplace, I decided to develop a class on listening. Just listening. Nothing else. The response was surprising. People filled the class and those who could not get in put their names on a waiting list for the next opportunity. I discovered that people were hungry to learn how to listen, but no one had ever given them any guidelines.
God gave us the best instruction in listening that I have ever found. Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God."
The first rule of good listening is to "be still." Simple. But not so easy, when our minds are full of opinions and questions and anxiety. In the above mentioned class, instead of the typical introductions and review of the agenda, the class began before the attendees even entered the room. A sign was posted on the classroom door that said, "SHHHHH - LISTENING IN PROGRESS."
Students entered silently and were handed an exercise sheet, with instruction to write down every sound they could hear in the room - the sound of pens scratching on the paper, the sound of breathing, rain on the window, someone down the hallway talking loudly on a phone. There was a prize for the person who could list the greatest number of individual sounds - and with absolutely nothing going on the room except for listening (and writing down the what they could hear) the lists often went to twenty or twenty-five different sounds.
It is amazing what we can hear when we really listen. The underlying tension in a child's voice when they tell us they had a "good day", leads us to suspect we need to listen to them tell us about what happened that day.
When we listen to a friend, without mentally forming our own reply before they are finished talking, when we allow a heartbeat or two between when they finish their sentence and when we respond, we begin to learn the art of really listening.
Listening to the concerns, joys, struggles, and victories of others allows us to better discern, appreciate and deal with our own challenges.
This series began discussing the safety vent of tears, and thus we come full circle to the safety valve of laughter. Many years ago Norman Cousins, the famed UCLA doctor who pioneered the study of biochemistry in human emotions, wrote extensively on the healing power of laughter. Once again, God was way ahead of our human understanding. His Word tells us in Proverbs that "A merry heart does good like medicine." True then - still true today.
Scientists now know that our brains release endorphins when we laugh, producing a sense of well-being and cheer. Increased endorphins have been shown to promote better recovery from illness. God knew that thousands of years ago, long before someone coined the phrase "laughter is the best medicine."
& & &
Life is tough. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, suggested that it is only when we give up the false notion that life should be easy, that we can begin to deal effectively with life's toughest challenges. God knows our frame and remembers that we are frail creatures at best. He knows that we often succumb to pressure, just when we most need to take a strong stand.
But He has not left us without some tools with which to confront life's pressure. Yes, life is a pressure cooker, but we need not live caught between "stowing and blowing" (see article one in this series). Instead we can learn to use our God-given coping mechanisms and emerge from each trial stronger, truer and more able to help someone else.