By Fr. Jake Greiner
Are you a good listener? If you would ask me this question I would have to honestly answer with the following statement: It depends on the day. My ability to listen depends on what I have going on in my personal life and ministry on any given day. According to communication experts, my experience is representative of most people’s lives. It can sometimes be difficult trying to listen to other people and understand what they are trying to communicate to us.
What does it take to be a good listener, so we can understand others? We need plenty of time and personal interest. With plenty of time, we are not constantly interrupting someone because we have to move on to the next thing in our busy lives. We have to be truly interested in what others are communicating so that we are not constantly distracted by our thoughts or the actions of others. This might even mean having to turn off our cell phones, which many people consider to be a mortal sin! Finally, we have to be able to communicate to the person who is speaking that we have some level of understanding of what they are communicating since listening does not necessarily lead to understanding. These are the fundamental actions needed to be a good listener. Having the time, interest and ability to communicate with someone is important. Piece of cake, right? As I admitted already, listening and understanding can be a difficult proposition.
This characteristic of being a good listener is highly sought after in our hectic world because it seems to be harder and harder to find. For example, a frequent complaint that I hear from people is that no one listens to them, so no one seemingly understands them. This complaint does not make sense given the world in which we live in the United States. We have more means to communicate than ever existed before.
Furthermore, our communication is being read, listened to and watched by more people than ever before. But people are thinking and feeling that no one listens to them in our contemporary world. They feel less understood, even though all of us are more plugged in than ever before.
Our Catholic faith assures us that God listens to us and understands us. The prophet Isaiah described God’s care and compassion for each of us in the following way: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you (Isaiah 49:15).” This passage from sacred Scripture assures us we are constantly being shown love by our God, but the problem is that we sometimes don’t feel this love being communicated back to us. Like our good friends and family members, we want to hear that someone understands the pains, struggles and frustrations of our lives. We want to be listened to and understood. The silence in our prayers can sometimes be deafening when we just want to hear something.
If you feel as if you are not listened to or understood in your current life, give God a chance. God will speak. He will speak through our reading and hearing of sacred Scripture. He will speak through our participation in the Mass. He will speak through our service to others. He will speak through every action where we are trying to bolster our faith. If we want God to be a part of our lives we have to spend some time allowing our heart and mind the chance to listen to God.
In the end, I also challenge all of us to try to listen better to other people. Who knows? You might be answering someone’s prayer.
(Fr. Greiner is pastor of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville and Sacred Heart Parish in Melcher.)