“The truth is that careful listening feels so much like love that most of us can hardly tell the difference.” –Dr. James Dobson
This quote was presented at a leadership meeting I attended last week and it has been on my mind ever since. February is known as the month of love. We Americans spend billions of dollars on flowers, candy, and jewelry every February 14th in an effort to communicate our love for our children, our spouses, or other significant people in our lives. Yet, according to Dr. Dobson, careful listening is one of the most loving gifts we can give to our friends and families.
My daughter Brianna communicated her need for my focused attention, even as a toddler. If I attempted to do household chores or work on my computer while she was telling me a story, she would say, “Listen to me with your eyes, Mommy.” She had a speech impediment at the time, so it sounded more like, “Lithen to me wiff your eyes, Mommy.” She was adorable. She was also correct in her assessment that her mother was not actually listening to what she was saying. Whenever possible, I would walk away from my computer or put down my dusting cloth, look her in the eyes, and give my storytelling toddler my full attention as she talked.
When asked what command in God’s Word is most important, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39 MSG).
We all like to know our thoughts have been heard. Carefully listening to the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others makes them feel validated and lets them know we value their ideas. It occurs to me that, as writers, careful listening will not only communicate love to the people we care about and enhance those relationships, but it will also improve our writing.
Writing requires inspiration and inspiration requires input. Listening—really listening—to the people God places in our lives is a great way to spur fresh ideas. Children often have an amusing, unfiltered way of describing our world. Older adults, if we’ll take the time to listen, offer a wealth of knowledge and wisdom gained through their many life experiences. A husband brings perspective to an emotional topic. A wife enhances historical facts with empathy and compassion. Carefully listening to humanity—even strangers in a busy city park—can provide fresh ideas for a blog post or inspire a new twist in plot for a novel.
This February—the month when we talk a lot about love—let’s love like Jesus said we should. Let’s love our God with our passion and our prayers and with the intellect He has given us. Let’s love people by carefully listening to their thoughts and feelings. Keep a pen handy to jot down a quote or a blog post idea (after the conversation is over!), but be fully present as you interact with the people God has placed in your life. Listen to them with your eyes as well as with your ears.
Our relationships will be richer and we may even discover that our writing takes on new depth.
How has careful listening enhanced your relationships or your writing?