How to Live a Listening Life

My husband and I sat across from each other with menus and a white linen tablecloth between us. Soft tones murmured around us as glasses clinked and waiters shuffled by with heavy white dishes. In an attempt to muffle the ambient noise, I tried to cup my hand around my ear without looking obvious. I leaned in close to hear the conversation clearly, and I smiled when the words floated across the table directly to me.

My husband glanced at me and closed his menu with a snap. “Will you please pay attention to me?” he said, and my eyes flickered to his face. My hand fell from my ear as a sheepish smile crossed my face. “Hon,” I reminded him, “you know my spiritual gift is eavesdropping.”

We were a week into our vacation Stateside after spending the previous year living abroad in Switzerland, and I planned to absorb all of the random chit-chat and conversation. My American ears longed for the sound of ambient chatter. I’d spent the last year in a fog of misunderstanding. Small talk, eavesdropping, and snippets of conversation were no longer a part of my everyday experience. My adopted country and I didn’t speak the same language.

I hadn’t exercised my so-called gift in months, but I also hadn’t become aware of the fact that the loss of spoken English had sharpened my other senses. I’ve heard this is true for those who lose their sense of sight or taste or hearing. Suddenly, everything else comes into sharp relief. Our un-compromised senses compensate, and where there is loss, there is also an intense focus.

What remains is everything we’ve been missing.

Eugene Peterson writes, “We live in a culture that knows little or nothing of a life that listens and waits, a life that attends and adores.” This is my version of aspirational living. I want to live a listening life. A life that sees the value in silence, waiting, hope, and adoration. A life wide awake–one that honors this world and the One who created it, with its attention.

In Switzerland, with the loss of understanding, I was able to give the rest of the world my attention. Musical notes as opposed to lyrics. The sound of jackhammers and birdsong and laughter on the street as opposed to a passerby’s conversation. I noticed the way the clerk in the grocery store inclined her head to the customer or how the man behind me in line handled his vegetables–carefully organized by shape and size on the conveyer.

I spent far more time outside, adopting the Swiss motto, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing,” and I noticed what each passerby wore. Red beanie. Checked scarf. Thick treaded boots. Triple-layer down coat with a logo in the shape of a wolf paw print. I drove to the store and bought the same jacket.

I peeked in grocery carts. I absorbed body language. I followed footprints as I ran through the forest. I looked where people looked. I stopped where they stopped. I saw Switzerland–in all of its glory and decay and stunning beauty. I saw and heard and touched and smelled all of it.

I regret nothing.

I regret all of the time I spent inattentive, not listening.

We can’t adore the world if we refuse to wait for it. It unfolds like paper-wrapping and ribbon tied around the gift of ordinary glory. This is counter-cultural work. It is the work of the Spirit whispering this reminder: see, smell, hear, taste, feel. This is how we learn to love our neighbor. This is how we live life more abundantly. This is listening.

How, then, do we wait in the listening? I moved back to America four years ago, and I am just now learning to listen to my life in Switzerland. I sat with it. I turned it over in my pocket. I placed it on my nightstand. I stared and stared and stared at those years, and I am just beginning to make sense of them. How much more so the rest of my life before them? How much more so today? Tomorrow?

The gorgeous, the grotesque, the mediocre– the listening life is one that pays attention to all of it. And someday, after waiting and turning it over, and paying attention, comes understanding.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Subscribe