Monday, August 17, 2015

May We Be People That Hear

When my son Kyler was two, he was quite the talker. It was not unusual for him to talk non-stop in the car, until I finally would have to ask him to please be quiet and rest, for the sake of mama's sanity (anyone relate?!). I remember him pointing out everything he saw along the drive, many sites jogging random memories from the day, which triggered more stories, more talking. As he chattered away, every now and then he would pause in silence, awaiting a verbal confirmation from me that I was taking in all of his words. And often, he would not resume his story until I repeated back to him the last line or two of what he had just spoken. Even at two, he wanted to make sure he was being heard. 

I got pretty used to his adorable, two-year-old speech, and could almost always quickly decipher at least the essence of what he was trying to communicate. Until one day. He sat in the backseat, buckled and babbling away on a warm summer day. And then this:
{Kyler}: "Eina-ray-dee-tah-tu!" 
{Me}: "What buddy?" 
{Kyler}: "Eina-ray-dee-tah-tu!" 
{Me}: "What??" 
{Kyler - with increasing emphasis}: "Eina-RAY-dee-TAH-tu!" 
{Me}: "Can you try to explain it to me?" 
{Kyler - almost hysterical now}: "EINA-RAY-DEE-TAH-TU, MAMA! 
{Me}: "Buddy, I'm so sorry, I cannot figure out what you are saying." 
{Kyler - in tears, looking defeatedly out the window}: "Mama. Ray-dee-tah-tu."
Oh, I was so heartbroken that day by his desire to be heard, and by my inability to decipher his message! I rolled those syllables over and over in my head, hoping somehow they would begin to make sense. Kyler sat in silence, looking out the window the rest of the trip. And as I watched his sullen, chubby boy face through the rearview mirror, I couldn't help but think, "I know, buddy, I know. It is so hard to speak and have your words fall flat. To share and not be heard."


I know what it's like to practically shout "Listen to me!" and still find your words falling flat. To talk for hours, with tears and determination, in the mirkiness of grief or disillusionment, and wait for someone to repeat back at least the essence of what you am trying to express. To wait with longing for confirmation that your words are being received, and thus your heart with it. 

But often, my experiences looked more like this:
{Me}: "I just don't know how to grieve. I mean how do you experience loss like this and live again?" 
{Listener}: "You're doing great. Look, you've got a great job now. The sun is shining. It'll all work out! (Which sounded more like, "You're wrong for thinking about the loss. Just see the good in things")."
{Me}: "I feel like I just need someone to struggle through this with; I feel so isolated and alone. That loneliness hurts as much as the loss."  
{Listener}: "Maybe you could find a counselor (Which sounded more like, "Don't look at me, I'm not available!)"
And as with my two year old son, it never seemed to matter how many times I repeated myself or how many tears spilled out on the table, the message just would not come through. We may as well have been speaking different languages. And perhaps we were.

And like Kyler, I lost the will somewhere along the way to be heard, and for a season turned my head with tears and fell silent. It became too frustrating, too disheartening, too confusing to never really be heard. And so I stopped talking, and just looked out the window of life for a few years.

And here's what I saw: We are all longing to be heard. We are all longing to be understood, to be known truly and fully, even if simultaneously the thought of that scares us to death. Even if we have spent most of our lives hiding behind roles or rules, behind our best attempts to live up to others' expectations or to be the best "fill-in-the-blank" we possibly can be, numbing our loneliness or confusion or disillusionment with more work, more food, even more "God." Even if the thought of being fully known has never consciously crossed our minds, still, more than anything, we want to be heard, to be fully known.

I also saw this: Many of us feel misunderstood. We feel like strangers in our own lives, exhausted from all the striving and masking, from all the talking and falling flat. We may find various levels of contentment, or even happiness, in careers or kids or causes, but still there is this lingering sense that I am not fully known. That all these people passing me every day don't quite get me. That unless, or until, I can fit myself into a few acceptable molds, I will never belong. 

And why? Why is it so hard for us to hear each other? Why, so often, can we look a grieving human in the face and miss their heart completely? Why can we talk and talk and talk, surrounded by people all day long, and still fall asleep with a deep sense of alone-ness? 

I know for me, I have done this when I am too busy - busy with daily tasks, over-committed to a variety of causes, distracted by a never-ending "must accomplish" list. I have done this when I am depleted and insecure myself - when I am deep in the trenches of hiding my own fears or masking my own many unmet longings.

But, for me, the times I have misunderstood others the most - the times I have looked fellow humans in the eyes and missed every word they were saying - are the times I was living in certainty. When I have given my soul over to blacks and whites, to easy labels and sure fixes, to clear rules and cramped religion. When I have let how things are "supposed to be" replace the heart of the human standing right in front of me. 

Certainty - and her brother, Pride - have acted like earplugs in my life, immensely limiting my ability to hear or my willingness to know the person standing right in front of me. For me, that certainty was found mostly in fundamentalist religion, but it could be found many other places, too. Anywhere right answers are valued above real lives, anywhere truth is held outside of the human experience, anywhere labels trump love - there you are sure to find Certainty & Pride. There you are sure to find people hurting to be heard and longing to be known. 

I have seen this again and again, and recently as I watch people debate the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice issue, I see it so clearly. How many of these people, spouting vehement words of right versus wrong, have walked a day in the shoes of the other? How many have stopped long enough to really hear the other's voice, let alone to help them? Perhaps some have, but many have not. Ann Voskamp articulates this beautifully in her piece here.

May we be people that look beyond labels. People that lift humanity above dogmas or policies. People that seek to fully know and respect the soul standing before us. May we be people with enough humility and perspective to say, "Maybe I don't get it. Will you help me understand." 

May we be people that hear.

Pin It Now!


  1. I'm experiencing a lonliness like never before now that my partner of four years has moved away. It's been over 8 months now and I'm still grieving. I feel lonliness even with my friends around me. The idea of being significant to someone is hitting me hard even though logically I know I'm significant in other areas of my life. Grief is hard. I've decided to just let myself feel these things and hope they will eventually dissipate.

    1. I hear you, Angela, and I'm sorry for your recent loss. Loneliness is perhaps THE MOST painful emotion any human can experience. I still wrestle with it at times. And pressing into the discomfort of all the grief and loneliness can feel extremely unnatural and uncomfortable - I also think it is extremely worth it, but that doesn't necessarily make it any easier. Keep staying open and honest and alive to yourself. You deserve it!


Design by Small Bird Studios | All Rights Reserved