When words aren’t really worth it

The words tumbled out fast. Words turned into sentences. Sentences into paragraphs. Paragraphs into a lecture. Sandwiched in the middle of the lecture, I threw both hands up in the air, proclaiming he should always “seek to understand others more than he should seek to be understood.”

Good advice.

The boy turning pre-teen walked away, shoulders a little slumped, and my heart ached a little, my proclamation ringing in my ears.

I told him there’s no greater gift to give others than to understand them, seek out who they are, listen to their stories. But I’d never asked his. My rant went on and on, making sure he understood. I’m not sure if he did or didn’t.

Had I tried to understand his perspective? He’d done wrong, but did I give him a voice? I’d silenced his interruptions with finger wagging and a lengthy lecture, lingering on what he most needed to work out in himself.

Perhaps it was just what he needed to hear. Or perhaps what he needed most was someone seeking to understand his heart. Understand his motives.

I jump quickly to judge others by their actions, while judging myself by intentions.

Had I asked of his intentions, that gave way to actions?

I hadn’t. My lonely words echoed as I fixed the rest of supper: “Seek to understand more than to be understood.” Chopped onion and celery fell into the pot, while the chopped up words etched themselves onto my heart.

If I had said nothing at all, what would he have said? Would he have had anything to say? 

I’ll never know. The night continued, everyone rested, and morning brought a new day, as it always does. The opportunity to understand his heart passed, the afternoon’s lecture a reminder of the many one-way conversations we’ve experienced.

I talk to the kids the way I talk to God.

I want them to hear everything I have to say. Understand everything I’m feeling about the situation.

When I pour out my heart before the Lord, it’s often the same. I want him to hear everything, understand my situation. 

But if he already knows what we pray before we pray it, maybe I’ve missed the point? We’re instructed to pray to our Father who knows what we need before we ask Him. In all the memorizing of the most famous prayer every prayed, maybe the verse before tells us everything we need to know.

Our prayers, given to a Father who already knows, are about being with Him. Seeking to understand Him. Praying to the One who already knows. I can probably be a little less lengthy with my words in my prayer.

If I stopped talking, what would He have to say? 

Am I seeking to be understood or to understand? 

I want to understand Him and others. To keep my eyes fixed on Him and on those around me. It’s easy to let my words fill the empty spaces instead of allowing His Words to speak to me.

I spray painted a verse so many years ago on the back of a t-shirt. At the time, it was for a team, and we were all picking favorite verses and putting them on the back of our shirts for our team. I didn’t have a favorite verse, so I picked one out of a favorite chapter.

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

Words written by James all those years ago, spray painted neon orange on the back of my t-shirt some 17 years ago still ring as true today as they did during the dozens of games played in the shirt. When I wrote the verse it was more about being slow to anger.

But am I quick to hear?

Quick to hear His heart?

Quick to hear others’ hearts?

Or quick to hear the sound of my own voice?

When he washed the dishes a few nights after our one-sided discussion, the sunset outlined him in gorgeous hues of pink, orange, yellow. His head bent low, loading dishes into the dishwasher, unaware of the beauty if he only looked out the window.

I’ve been unaware of the beauty all around me. I’ve silenced voices longing to be understood. There’s beauty in all the stories around us. If I spend the rest of my life talking when I should be listening, I’ll miss them all.

I’ve promised to not miss a thing.

I promised it to him days after the lecture. I promise to hear you, to seek to understand your heart. To be a better picture of a parent who is listening to the innermost working of a heart that beats as passionately as mine.

I promised it to the One to whom I’ve prayed one-sided prayers. I’ll be quiet, I told Him. I’ll listen more than I speak. Maybe the heavens have felt so silent because I’ve filled the space with words that should have given way to the wisdom of silence. It’s been hard, this being quiet before the Lord. And hard to be quiet before those I love. To give His voice prominence over mine. To give their hearts preference over my own. I’ve loved the sound of my own voice more than I’ve loved the sound of others. The quiet has been calming, the heavens stretching wide open with a promised peace. My people listening for words and realizing I’m listening to their own.

Beauty here in quiet spaces.






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