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!

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!

Marriage Meets Our Deepest Needs

I mentioned last month about how we have become obsessed in our culture with programs like Married at First Sight or the new kid on the block, Date Night.

As I also said, I do not watch these programs, nevertheless, it is interesting to hear in the promos what people have to say about why they are prepared to put themselves on display in this way.

They speak about finding someone to share their life with and building a genuine partnership with another.

They all want a relationship that will last a lifetime.

And they want to be loved for who they are.

These desires run deep within all of us – scratch the surface and you discover that we are all looking for them – and they are part and parcel of what it means to be human.

But where do such notions come from?

For some of us, the answer will surprise us because these basic expressions of our humanness are found in the Bible!

Genesis 2 recounts for us the events surrounding the first wedding in history between Adam and Eve and it also unveils the core principles at the heart of marriage.

Marriage is about partnership.

When God announces that He intends to make for Adam a “…helper suitable” for him, He is stating that He will give Adam a partner in life, Eve, who will be his support, bring out the best in him and above all, be his counterpart.

It is tragic to see the constant struggle that goes on between the two sexes over equality when it is as plain as day that in the beginning God created men and women fully equal, both of them expressing what it means to be in “His image”.

The best marriages are about partnership where the husband and wife intentionally seek to bring out the best in each other.

Marriage is about permanency.

For the man to become “united” to his wife, or as the Old English says, “to cleave to his wife” conveys a simple but profound truth.

It simply meant that the husband was to stick like glue to his wife.

Every marriage will have its tough days and tense moments. These are the times when we are faced with a choice – will we walk or will we stay? If we are committed for life, then we will choose the latter.

Marriage is about choosing wisely and well, clinging to each other with affection and loyalty – no matter what.

Marriage is about knowing each other deeply.

This is, perhaps, our deepest longing – to be known and loved for who we truly are.

In those very familiar words of the wedding ceremony, taken from Genesis 2, we are told that the “man and the woman were both naked and not ashamed.”

This concept is beautifully described as a husband and wife being emotionally, spiritually, psychologically and physically naked before each other – “stripped and undisguised and totally open with each other” as one author has put it.

When a couple share their deepest emotions, thoughts, ideas, fears, hurts, celebrations and myriad other things, they build true intimacy and a strong, secure foundation for their physical relationship.

I believe that learning to know each other deeply will take a lifetime and, after a relationship with God, it is the most rewarding thing in the world.

It has been a gift from God for me to watch Karen grow into the woman that she is today as we have walked the road of our marriage together. As she has matured in her relationship with God and as a person I have had the enormous privilege of watching her blossom in so many areas – I can honestly say that I know her more deeply now than when we were first married!

Partnership. Permanency. Being truly known.

Deep desires that are met through the gift of marriage.