“Pay close attention to how you hear.” Luke 8:18

During a visit with a friend, my love for personality tests came up in conversation, as it literally does pretty much every time. I love studying personality. And while I realize people can get fixated on one profile system (i.e. the color thing, Meyers Briggs, enneagram, etc.), I think they all have value. But my friend wasn’t so convinced. She felt they labeled people, either in an effort to box them in, rationalize gossip, or excuse dysfunction. And she’s not wrong.

Like most tools, people get to choose how to use them. But right after this conversation with her, I stumbled over this quote from Jesus, “Pay close attention to how you hear.”

I experience an insane amount of grace for myself, and for others, when I pay attention to how I hear. It is one thing for me to listen to you, to hear your words and to strive to be an engaged audience, but it’s an entirely different thing, a much more difficult thing, to begin to unpack how I hear.

There are reasons certain phrases trigger frustration for me. There are reasons my face goes to auto-response when people use certain words or take on a certain tone. I would add that the first ten years of my marriage consisted of conflict around the issue of how I heard Sal’s words and tone. And I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said to the boys, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.” Which is a phrase that is way less about “how you say it” and taking notice of “how they might hear it.”

I can’t control how you hear things, or even how I hear them. But I can grow in awareness.

Do you know how you hear?

Do you pay attention to how you hear?

Ever notice we hear differently from different people?

Research in brain function and learning indicates that our brains literally respond differently to different voices. Probably the most prominent example is how an infant responds to the sound of their mother’s voice. Different brain circuits are engaged when a baby hears their mother; which totally makes sense in terms of God’s design. The value in this for bonding and survival is obvious. What I wonder, though, is how that same design functions in teen years when mom’s voice seems to trigger something I would never describe as bonding. It’s almost as if God created us to bond first, and then those same tones drive us to push toward independence.

When we were in youth ministry, parents would say to me, “You can say the same things I do, and they hear it from you.” My response was always, “Because I’m not their parent.” I think science would back me up.

Sometimes when I talk to my mom, I feel 16 again. I may roll my eyes a little less, but it’s almost as if I revert. If I’m not paying attention to how I hear, to how I am listening, it would be easy to respond as a 16-year-old.

Think about when you had a co-worker who was offended by another co-worker. Later, you find yourself in a meeting with the offender of your friend. Don’t you kinda hear them differently? They bring a great idea to the table, and if you aren’t paying attention to how you are hearing them, you could easily lay a cloak of offense over their idea, possibly dismissing something very valuable because you didn’t notice how you were listening.

I naturally listen judgey.
I am wired to hear fairness.
My ears bend toward critique, silly expectations, insane standards.

If I am not paying attention to how I hear, my personality gets to run the show in an unhealthy and self-centered direction. When I am paying attention to how I am listening, I am gifted with a lens or filter that produces clarity of communication that has the potential to make an actual impact. The hard work and effort of self-discovery are worth it, even at the risk of a label or a box.

Pay close attention to how you hear.

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