Sunday, January 17, 2010

Learning to Listen

I have never been a great listener and am just now realizing it. I hear people, and I care a whole lot, but my actual listening talents are often buried under my enthusiasm for helping people solve whatever problem they are talking about. I'm really working on this. One of the things I am learning through my life now is that sometimes I just want a sympathetic ear, not a problem solver (although don't get me wrong. I have also received amazing advice and insight. Don't stop...). I used to feel like throwing out my ideas and "fixing" things was how I showed I cared. I get now that effective listening is often just being there and asking questions and allowing the talker to work through something on their own as well as recognizing that they know their situation and themselves best and can ultimately handle it unless they specifically want input. My intentions were always good but may have come across incorrectly. I'm learning and I am grateful that I am doing so before my kids are of an age to want to discuss more with me than detailed Spongebob Squarepants plots (which, if I am being honest, I don't really want to listen to!) I think I have a few years yet to practice.

I am also learning to listen in other ways. I'm sorry to say that I am one of those who has been compelled to be humble. I was a fairly lukewarm church member for most of my life. I didn't really have a problem with my amount of faith but definitely did with my dedication. It's amazing how much a crisis can bring you to your knees in more ways than one. I am grateful though. Although I am far from loving my current situation or the one that got me here in the first place, I am grateful to know that I am heard. I'm grateful to know that when it all just gets too heavy (and it frequently feels that way) I can ask for the burden to be shared and it is. It doesn't mean it isn't lonely. It doesn't mean that I magically have accepted my new life and it doesn't mean that getting out of bed is not still a challenge. It just means that I am given the extra strength through whatever means God can use to help me square my shoulders, get up and keep going after the daily stumbles and falls. I have felt strength come from nowhere when I didn't think I could take one more step and I have felt peace when I could have sworn it was not possible. Before this happened to me, I didn't know you could feel this level of emotional agony and still live without going crazy. I hope no one else reading this ever has to empathize with that statement (just take my word for it). But I also didn't realize what the Atonement can do for the sufferer as well as the sinner. I stand all amazed.

In return, I am trying to listen to promptings I get. I am always chagrined when I ignore something that turns out later to have been a clear prompting. The more I listen, the more I am rewarded by getting the things I need. For instance, I came very close to talking myself out of going to church yesterday. This last weekend, the kids were at J's. In theory, I should have felt rested, but in so many ways it is more emotionally exhausting not to have them than it is to physically have them here and have to run around meeting needs. By the time they come home to me, I feel like I have gone my fifteen rounds. J dropped them off in time for church and I thought I was ready to dive into getting us all ready to go. Somehow, I forgot about 'behavior boot camp' and the extra time I need to get them back on an even keel after a party weekend with dad. Junior came in the door immediately announcing he was sick (he wasn't, but the little stinker has learned early on that it gets him out of things. He doesn't know that his mother was a master at that particular trick). Bubba was so wired that he couldn't even keep still enough to get his pants on. Sis woke up a little early from her morning nap and was starving to death (according to the volume of her howls). I ran around combing hair, finding shoes, shooing boys toward their coats, packing a diaper bag, breaking up fights, etc. all the while thinking that we should just skip Sacrament meeting because we were running so late. No big deal. The boys were protesting having to get dressed up and I hate to walk in late with three kids. This wouldn't be the first time I have given in to this voice and I was so close to doing it again. I probably would have if not for certain resolves I made on Sunday the week before as well as an insistent whisper that there was something I needed to be there for. Remember how I am doing hard things now? I decided to listen. I braved the late walk in (and of course, the only seat available was up near the front). We hurried in, heads down, and after I got the kids situated, I realized the Stake Presidency was there to speak. I absolutely love those men! J and I were in their office every week this summer as we tried to untangle what was going on in our marriage. They saw Sis from the time she was just two weeks old (she came with us every week) and every week sat down to chat with me (without being bothered that I was constantly in tears no matter what we talked about) as I waited for J to finish his turn with the Stake President. Despite the constant flow of people in and out of that office, they always remembered my name and my childrens and I was constantly touched by the love, compassion and hope they had for the survival of our family. Hearing them speak made me curse my last minute decision not to throw tissues in the diaper bag as well as the necessity of sitting up front where anyone could see me sniff (tissue-less) and surreptitiously wipe away tears. I don't know that I have ever spent a Sacrament meeting affected that way. I was touched when they all went out of their way after the meeting to come and say hello to us. I needed to hear what they spoke about and I was glad I had chosen to listen to a prompting that helped give me strength for the day especially since the day in question turned out to be a difficult one.

I have learned that listening, like faith, takes practice and obedience. Each time I know I was right to listen to a prompting, it gives me faith to follow the next one. Lately, it has been giving me the courage to listen to the ones I would rather not. There are still many hard days ahead. I know this, and the thought often makes me want to go right back to bed. The last seven months have made me feel at least 100 years old but I am learning to rely on the fact that I have "back up" to help me function. I'm glad to know there is someone on my side who knows me and knows what I need (and also knows how much I can handle, even when I question it myself). In many ways, I am grateful to have had to define what I believe and just how much. I'm grateful to know that I can ultimately get the answers I need.

If I just remember to listen.


  1. I love this post! I was having a rough day yesterday. Thanks for sharing your insights.

  2. Gorgeous, gorgeous post! I am really touched by your words--especially your honesty and your faith. You are doing really hard things! You are an amazing mother.

  3. i know you don't know me, but i've been reading your blog for about a month now. i love your insights. i love your raw honesty. it helps me. and i have no doubt it helps others. thank you for being willing to share!

  4. Wish you had posted this a week ago. Had to speak in Sac. meeting this week and my to recognize the promptings of the spirit! I read at least 10 talks etc. and you are right in step with the General Authorities. How rich it is for you to have recognized the need and how to do this.

    Well said.

  5. You don't know me either, but my sister is going through this very experience and a friend of mine recommended your blog. I passed it on to my sister. It has been such a balm in her life right now when she thinks all is lost and she is alone, disgarded and left to pick up the pieces of her life with three little kids too. I am so impressed with your honesty, faith, hope and talent of writing just how it is. I hurt so bad for my sister and can't even really understand what she is feeling, but you have helped her in more ways then I can express, so thank you so much and you are in my prayers now as well.

  6. You are such a rockstar!! You strengthen me with every post!