Worth the Listen
Let’s pretend something really, really wonderful happened to you and you tried to tell me about it. You had to work pretty hard to get me off my phone. Once you began, I kept looking over your shoulder. Then, in the middle of one of your sentences, I straight up said, “I don’t have time for this,” and walked away. Would you seek me out next time you had a cool story to tell? Would you trust me when you had a secret to share? Would you even want to talk to me again?
It would be incredibly harmful if adults treated each other this way. Yet I feel like we often excuse ourselves for treating kids this way.
The other day my son prefaced a story he had to tell me with, “I know you don’t really care, but…” Ouch. He was not being snarky; he actually sounded desperate. Over the next few days I had to chew on that one. What was it about the way I listen to him that made him feel like I don’t care when he talks to me? I was reminded of James 1:19, which advises us to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” That is hard. It is hard to be quick to listen to the tedious tale of a playground drama or a video game strategy. It is hard to be slow to speak when a teenager makes scandalous confessions or outrageous statements.
Chances are you have a kid or two in your life. (If you don’t, you should go get one, because what you do for the next generation is the most important thing you’ll ever do.) You might be the parent of a chatty toddler or a quiet teen. You might teach a room-full of babbling preschoolers. You might have awkward interactions with your niece and nephew at Christmas. Wherever you’re coming from, here are a few thoughts about listening well. By the way, keep in the back of your mind that these seem to be good principles for listening to other grown-ups and for listening to God. After all, He listens to us with this kind of attention.
Listen when it’s little…
…because it’s not little to them. That’s why they’re telling you. It’s a big deal. Even though it’s just a ladybug in the backyard.
…because someday it will not be little. Today it’s a scarred knee. Later it will be a scarred heart. And because you listened today, they can count on you to listen later.
Listen when it’s long…
…because to kids, time is love. And when you put your phone down, look them in the eyes, and listen for two minutes or two hours, your actions are speaking loud and clear.
…because that’s where the good stuff is buried. In the midst of the middle-school girl sagas lie her biggest dreams and worst fears. Underneath the retelling of the entire movie plot, you will find glimpses of his talents and emerging personality.
Listen when it’s late…
…because that may be your only chance. Especially if they’re older. And especially if they are struggling with the big stuff, because that seems to come up a lot after 11p.m.
…because it’s better to lose sleep listening than to lose sleep worrying. When they know that you are happy to jump out of bed at midnight to listen to their first kiss story, they actually want to come home and tell you about it.
Yes, we need to teach kids how to patiently wait instead of interrupting. They need to listen to others instead of always being the center of attention. But kids (and adults) value others best when they have a true and secure knowledge of their own self-worth. And perhaps the best way to bestow worth is to listen.