Are You Really Listening to Me?

I was asked recently to speak at a seminar on The Five Love Languages and my topic was Quality Time.

Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages describes Quality Time as “giving someone your undivided attention” and that it is a “powerful emotional communicator of love.”

Giving people our attention communicates that we are interested in them and that we are also treating them with respect. But for some people, it is the primary way in which they both show and receive love.

This idea is borne out by the following two quotes, the first by Douglas Steere and the second by well- known counselor, David Augsburger:

“To listen to another’s soul… may be almost the greatest service that any human being ever performs for another.”

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.”

The similarity between the quotes is obvious because they both identify listening to another person as a key concept in giving someone quality time.

An ancient proverb also illustrates this by stating, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (Prov. 20:5).

I have found in my own experience that the development of good listening skills is a journey that takes a lifetime.

So what are some simple skills that can assist us along the way?

Good listeners make good eye contact. When they listen to you, they look you in the eye.

They do not constantly glance at their watch, look over the top of your head when you are speaking, text on their phone or look disinterestedly around the room.

Good listeners engage with you by making eye contact with you, seeking to connect with you personally.

Looking someone in the eyes is risky because it makes both you and the other person vulnerable to each other’s emotions. When you look into another’s eyes you see their pain, sorrow, laughter and joy.

When we look into each other’s eyes when listening we develop empathy for and with the other person and this naturally progresses to greater intimacy.

Looking a person in the eyes also conveys acceptance. It’s a powerful, non-verbal way of saying, “I see you and I accept you!”

A word of warning, however – eye contact does not mean boring a hole into the person’s eyes. Good eye contact is done naturally and from time to time it needs to be broken otherwise you run the risk of looking like an unblinking robot, completely oblivious of everything else.

Good listeners repeat back what they have heard. It need not be a verbatim report, but reflecting back at appropriate times in the conversation what you have heard the other person say is an excellent way to communicate that you are listening to them.

Good listeners do not interrupt. This one needs no explanation – it is pretty straightforward. Proverbs declares that the wise person “uses words with restraint.”

Good listeners do not make quick assumptions or judgements about the other person.

How easy it is to fall into the trap of assuming that we know precisely why a person is feeling a certain way without listening to them fully.

Equally damaging is our propensity to judge a person’s motives without fully listening to their story.

Wrong assumptions and unfair judgements have led to the breakdown of many a relationship when a simple, well thought out question would have clarified the matter and most likely have preserved the marriage or friendship.

These skills are simple and straightforward, but as I said earlier, they take a lifetime to develop and master.

Giving someone your undivided attention is a great way to communicate love and value to them.

We all love to be heard – but what a priceless gift we bestow when we truly listen to the heart of another!

Spending Quality Time Together as Friends

The Philosopher, Plato, once quoted a story from Greek mythology that said human beings “were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces.”

The king of the gods, Zeus, afraid of the power that humans might wield, decided to limit them, splitting them into two different people which resulted in them spending the rest of their lives seeking their other half.

From this myth arose the idea of the soul mate, that special person who is said to complete you and with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.

Some of you may cringe at the idea of your partner being your soul mate – I agree it can be overstated at times – but I think that at the heart of the concept is the idea of friendship.

And what could be better than being married to someone who is also your best friend?

It must be said, however, that the idea of friendship/the soul mate is not something that just happens in a relationship. Like everything else in life that is worthwhile, a growing and fulfilling friendship with your spouse is the result of intentionality.

One of my favourite books my mum read to me as a child began like this: “A friend is someone who likes you…”

All friendships begin at this point – you like the other person – but how does the friendship grow?

It grows as you spend quality time together, discovering you share a number of interests with each other.

To quote the Greeks again, the word for this “friendship love” is “philia.”

Philia meant that you had genuine, warm feelings toward the other person and that you shared a number of common interests and activities.

This is how friendship in marriage develops as well.

You obviously like each other – you are married – but what do you enjoy doing together?

Over the course of my marriage with Karen we have developed a great number of interests and activities in common and one of the things I have learned is that for an interest to be shared, you do not have to both “be into it” it from the outset.

This is what I mean.

When I met Karen, she could not tell you the difference between a googly or an out swinger, so in the early stages of our friendship and marriage, I introduced her to the joys of watching that greatest of all sports, cricket!

On the other hand, I could not dance to save my life but Karen loves dancing. Thanks to her tutelage and encouragement, I have regularly braved the dance floor with her over the years and now instead of looking like I have three left feet, it only looks like I have two!

The point here is that we both chose to show an interest in what each other liked and discovered the joy of not only learning something new but also spending fun time together.

Some years ago James Dobson quoted research that demonstrated that one of the key elements that predicted longevity in marriage was that the couple had various “interests in common and genuinely liked doing things together.”

Sadly, this factor is often missing in marriage.

A husband returns home at the end of the day and after exchanging a few pleasantries with his wife, quickly retreats to his shed or garage.

Or a wife chooses the company of her friends more regularly than the opportunity of being out with her husband.

A growing friendship with each other is an important aspect of a healthy marriage.

If you are struggling with doing something together as a couple, why not start by talking about the things you enjoyed doing together when you were dating?

Who knows, a night out at a bowling alley could end up being the best fun you have had together in years!

God Values Women

In October 2017, following allegations of sexual assault brought against movie producer Harvey Weinstein by several high profile actresses, the #MeToo campaign was launched and went viral around the world.

Since that time, thousands upon thousands of women have been empowered to tell their own story about unwanted sexual advances and sexual violence that they have endured over the years.

The World Health Organization has estimated that one third of women worldwide are affected by sexual violence.

Two 2017 polls conducted in the United States revealed that 54% of women reported that they had received “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances with 95% saying that such behavior usually goes unpunished.”

And there have been similar claims made in various parts of Australian society.

It may seem an odd way to begin an article, especially given that May is the month we celebrate our mums, and women in general.

But it asks us a question that demands an answer:

What do we, as men, really think of women?

In answering this question myself, there are two thoughts that shape my thinking.

Women are full image bearers of the God Who created them.

Genesis 1:27 states that “God created mankind in His own image…male and female He created them.”

This does not say that women bear part of the image of God – they are full image bearers.

This means that by virtue of their relation to the Creator, women have inherent worth, value and dignity.

I have grown tired of the old cliché remarks about, “It was the woman who led the man astray in the Garden!”

The undertone seems to be that all the problems of the world can be blamed on women.

Interestingly, when the Genesis account is properly understood, Adam was right there beside Eve when she took the first bite of the forbidden fruit … and he did nothing to dissuade her.

Equally, I dislike the statement, “After God made man, He said, ‘I can do better!'”

God never intended to set men and women up in opposition to each other, but to support, encourage and strengthen each other.

This begins when we embrace the truth that both the sexes bear the full image of their Creator!

Women share equally in all the promises of God.

What a ground breaking, revolutionary statement Paul made when he declared that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile … slave nor free … male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

In other words, at the foot of the Cross, your racial pedigree, your social standing and your gender count for nothing when it comes to being accepted by God in Christ Jesus.

This is Good News for everyone living on planet earth because God accepts everyone who comes to Him in humility and repentance!

I am not on a crusade here for more women’s rights!

The proponents of the #MeToo campaign have encouraged men with some simple steps to demonstrate respect for women in their personal world:

  • Men can intervene when they witness or hear of behaviour that demeans a woman.

  • Men can take a clear stand against behaviour that objectifies women.

  • Men can listen to the pain of women who have been mistreated.

I agree with all of this.

But the treatment of women will not change until there is a fundamental change in the heart and that change can only be brought about by God Himself.

When we see a woman, or a man, or a child or a disabled person, what do we see? A person made in the image of God or a “non-person?”

Looking through the eyes of God will fundamentally change the way we see each other – as image bearers of our Creator God, worthy of our love and respect.

So thank God this Mother’s Day for the women in your life and love them through His eyes.

They will thank you for it!