Tag Archives: listening

Sitting at Table or Serving?

I sat in the most amazing meeting this morning. I was invited to attend because I help coordinate a program that is held at this church on a weekly basis. The meeting was the “Leadership Forum” which included one person representing each church ministry and one person representing each oversight responsibility for running the church facility. I didn’t quite know what to expect since I am not a member of this specific congregation.

However, I did come with a lot of baggage about meetings because I have worked in corporations, not-for-profits, health care, small business and consulting. I generally cannot stand meetings because often there is no agenda and no accountability or the people running the meeting have a different agenda than what is listed on the agenda which becomes apparent during the meeting. I basically dread attending a large group “meeting.”

That’s why I was so thrilled by this meeting with this group of people. First of all, they stuck to their agenda. What was listed, they discussed. Second of all, they actually knew how to dialogue with each other. If someone brought up a problem or situation, everyone truly listened and then made helpful suggestions or offered ideas. If one person had not thought of that perspective, he thanked the other person for bringing that to the group’s attention. No comment was ignored. No eyes rolled. No undertones or hidden agendas that I could perceive (and I am pretty good at hearing/seeing/feeling those things.)

Also, there was an amazing amount of humility on the part of each person in the room. When they shared their results, it was never about themselves. They mentioned all the people who helped make this happen. But their results were tremendous! Remember, I was an “outsider” at this meeting, but they made it a point to help me see that my input was just as important since I used their facility.

It is no surprise that this church is growing in membership each month. If you spend time with their leadership, you see that they are truly servants.  “For who is the greater: the one at table or the one who serves? The one at table, surely? Yet here am I among you as one who serves!” (Luke 22:27) It’s almost like they take the Gospel seriously and live it each day, even in meetings! What a novel idea.

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The Difference Between Good and Nice

This has been bothering me lately–the difference between “good” and “nice.” The other day, my husband was telling me about a situation at work. He kept referring to a certain co-worker as a “nice guy” but then would go on to tell me of some awful things this “nice guy” was doing. After about the third time my husband called him “nice,” I just couldn’t take it any longer. I stopped him and asked, “Why is he a “nice” person if he is doing all of these things?”

Like I have mentioned, I have been listening more this Lent. I have come to realize that people use the term “nice” to mean that the person they are referring to is willing to tolerate just about anything so as not to rock the boat. Yes, they are peacemakers in a sense, but they also choose to overlook some very key issues. Their ability to deny the reality of the situation is a bit astounding to me. In fact, I would argue that at times they are participating in the evil around them simply by keeping their mouth shut because they are so “nice!”

I have been rolling these two descriptive adjectives around in my head for a couple of weeks. I have decided that I prefer people who are “good” to people who are “nice.” Good people are the ones who speak up when something wrong is happening. They are the ones who call their friend to accountability on an issue that their friend has been dodging or denying. They are sometimes called “mean” by the “nice” people. But I don’t think they are mean. They have courage. They have integrity. They are accountable to God and their neighbor. They love, so they suffer.

My closest friends are “good” people and true friends. They don’t always just tell me what I want to hear. They tell me what I need to hear. I do not think they are mean. I think they love me and want the best for me. I do the same for the them.

So, if you are nice, and you are reading this, I am sorry because you probably think I am mean. That’s easier to believe and makes you have to do absolutely nothing. If you are good, you know what I am referring to in this post. Keep up the good work!

Eaten by the Media Monster

Listening is a lost art.  Because I have chosen to listen this Lent, I am becoming supremely aware of all the “shouting” that goes on around me. Media messages are constantly bombarding us, and they do affect us. If you don’t believe this, I think you are either very naive or foolish.

The other day, I was driving in my car and praying. Sometimes, my car is a sanctuary because it is a place where I am by myself. I love my family, but we are all home together more than the average family in America. There are occasions when I need to have “alone time.” So, I found myself running errands and praying.

The first stop I had to make was at the Mall. I noticed right away the piped in music. I though to myself, “No silence allowed here.” Many of the stores had such large, graphic ads plastered across their storefronts that 20 years ago you would have only found in a PlayBoy magazine! I see families strolling together right past these ads, totally oblivious. Every store seems to have its own music blaring. “Who can think straight in this mess,” I wonder to myself.

I had to stop for gas next. As I turn on the pump, up pops a television screen and loud advertnewsment? As far as I can tell, there is no way to turn it off. “Wow,” I think to myself, “I cannot even fill up my car with gas without being bombarded by this junk.”

Finally, I get to the mechanic for an oil change. I have to wait in a lobby. You guessed correctly–giant screen television blaring away. I spy the remote. No one else is around. I pick it up and turn off the television. Out of nowhere, an employee appears. “Oh no, the television is broken,” he says. I explain that I chose to turn it off. The look on his face said everything. Apparently, turning off the television is forbidden or just plain odd. Since no one else was there, he allowed it. As soon as my car was ready, and I was backing out of the parking spot, I noticed him heading over to turn the television back on.

What happened to good old-fashioned conversation? What happened to clear thinking? What happened to ‘silence is golden’? Apparently, it got eaten by the media monster! And no one seems to have noticed or cared.

Are you a human being or a human doing?

I’ve been getting a lot of calls lately from close friends, family members and even acquaintances that have an overwhelming need to vent. These calls or conversations last at least an hour or two. If I had to group these conversations into a category, I would name them “mid-life discontent” or something of that nature. I have listened to both men and women who range in age from late 30s to early 50s.

I am a pretty good listener. I really try to understand their perspective. I also try to imagine the other person’s perspective, too. Often times, after listening for a long, long time, what I suggest is not what they want to hear. Why? Because usually it is true and it is hard to do. Believe me, I know this to be true because I have good friends who will listen to me and suggest the wise course, which I sometimes do not want to take!

I called these conversations “mid-life discontent” because my callers are usually not happy about a situation in their lives. Sometimes, it is a result of their choices. Other times, it is a result of their spouse’s choices. Often times, it is because they chose to act before seeking wise counsel or discerning God’s will. In our hurry-up-and-go world full of messages of instant gratification, slowing down and listening and pondering the right choice is not even considered. It seems that we have taken in the lie that we should always be “doing” something versus “being” someone.

I work really hard to be a human “being”. I try not to rush ahead to solve a problem or to accomplish my own game plan before listening and discerning. Sometimes, I am accused of being “lazy” or not being open to a change. That is not so! If only the accusers understood how much self-control it takes for me to slow down, listen and wait!!! It is not in my nature to do these things. It has taken considerable prayer and change for me to get to this point. I like to “do” just as much as anyone, but I have learned the hard way that “being” is much better than “doing.” So, even when I am being confronted for my lack of “doing”, I fall back on prayer and listen to God’s will. It has served me much, much better than my old human “doing”…Now, if I could just get more people to try it!

 

A two-year-old lost in the woods

I have a bad habit of filling my day way too full. My view of time is totally unrealistic. A task that takes an hour, I seem to think takes about 15 minutes. I tell you this as a background for my next story.

I had exactly 1 hour. It was to be both my lunch break and my chosen time to mow the lawn. At this stage, we didn’t own a riding lawn mower, but thankfully we had a self-propelled push mower. (In college, I actually used a hand mower with no engine at all, the real oldie kind.) The only problem was that it was very hard for this delicate gal to start our mower. I don’t exactly have great arm strength!

So, I gobbled down a quick sandwich and headed to the yard. It took me at least 10 minutes to get the mower started and I was already sweaty. Our yard loomed quite large at that moment. I started mowing in rows, back and forth, back and forth, praying as I went, “Please God, let me get this finished. You know that it is supposed to rain this afternoon. I promised to have this done. I have a meeting that I have to be ready for and I really just need this all to work.”

I have no idea how long my prayer went when I heard a sound from the woods behind me. It was a lady’s voice calling, “Jeffrey, Jeeeffff-reeeey, where are you?” I see her coming out of our woods. She looks like a regular Mom, so I am not too afraid, but I immediately start praying, “Dear God, please don’t make me stop and help her. I mean, how I am going to get this mowing done? I don’t know if I will ever get this silly old mower started again. I really don’t have time for this.”

But as I say those words, I realize how futile it is to ignore God. I turn off the mower and ask her if I can help her. She tells me that her friend’s two-year-old son has wandered off from a playdate down the block. There were a group of moms and toddlers meeting for fun, and Jeffrey managed to take advantage of this and go on an adventure. Her face screams the panic that she feels.

I tell her I will help. I immediately say, “Did you check the cars?” I don’t know why I say this, but I do. She says, “Yes, we did and didn’t find him.” I ask, “Did you look under furniture?” She gives me a bewildered look. I explain, “Sometimes, my toddlers liked to find a small space and curl up and fall asleep. Those places were not always easy to find or were not places I would have thought they would see as comfortable.” She tells me she is going to head back to the playdate house, which she points to as she leaves. I start calling all my neighbors who are home during the day and get them looking with me. I see two police cars arriving on the scene. Oh boy, this is not looking good.

I head towards the house where the toddler had been playing. I start looking at our neighborhood from the eyes of a toddler. Yes, definitely headed this way because of the cool play set in that backyard. No, didn’t venture there, too deep of a gully. Maybe headed up this way. I feel like Sherlock Holmes, but look like a sweaty, grass-covered mess. Just as I am seeing all the acres and acres of common ground woods that would be a lost child’s nightmare, I notice a grandfatherly-type neighbor walking from behind his house holding the hand of a two-year-old. “Jeffrey, ” I think to myself. Just then, I hear his Mom, “Oh Jeffrey, dear boy!” as she comes running up the hill from the direction of the house where they had been playing. Tears fill my eyes as I watch this reunion.

Later, I heard the rest of the story. Jeffrey apparently had been going in and out of the house along with all the other kids. However, when the kids ran inside to get lemonade, he took off in the other direction, unbeknownst to the adults. He found his way into the garage of the neighbor three doors up the hill. That neighbor, who was in his early 70s, had come home for lunch with his wife. Imagine his surprise when he got into his car to go back to work, and found a little two-year-old boy in the back seat! (Remember when I said, “Did you check in the cars?!”) I happened upon the scene as the elderly neighbor was walking down his driveway to find Jeffrey’s Mom.

Little Jeffrey was returned safe and sound! And yes, I was able to finish my lawn. I called and had to cancel my meeting. The rain held off just long enough for me to finish, thank God!

 

 

Peanuts in a Jar

Sometimes in life we face situations that feel like the rug has been pulled from underneath us. Often times, by the people we least expect. These situations require prayer and advice to know what is the best course of action. My husband and I are lucky to have older and wiser people in our lives to turn to for this type of advice. One of them shared this story with me:

A monkey sat in front of a jar full of peanuts. The peanuts were still in the shell, the kind you buy at the baseball game. The jar was broad at the bottom, but had a narrow neck. Just narrow enough that the little monkey could fit his hand and arm down into the bottom to grab the peanuts. Now, the monkey, being a monkey, was greedy. He wanted as many peanuts as he could possibly grab. So he slipped his hand and arm into the jar and tightly grabbed lots of peanuts from the bottom of the jar. His tight fist was full of peanuts and he felt happy! Of course, now, his hand was stuck because his fist was quite large and he could not bring his hand out of the jar. This infuriated the little monkey who began to scream and jump around. He felt trapped and didn’t know what to do. Finally, he LET GO of the peanuts and was free of the jar.

Three lessons I learned from this story:

1) Sometimes in life, it is hardest to know when we have to let go. It is in our nature to hold tightly, but that doesn’t always serve us or others around us well.

2) Being greedy can lead to other bigger problems.

3) If you stop and ask wise counselors for advice, they may show you a whole new way of looking at the problem. The monkey could have easily taken the jar and turned it upside down, thereby getting a peanut, just one peanut at a time.