Altar Call - Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
July 15, 2001

All of us need a few friends who are good at listening

While some folks never know when to shut up, there are others who never stop listening. What a blessing it is to have a few friends who never tire of listening to us. These are the beautiful people who have learned the fine art of listening.

One of my favorite stories is about the old man who, in his eighties, was living with his daughter and her family. After dinner one evening he excused himself, saying that he was going for a walk in the neighborhood. He said he would return in about 20 minutes.

Two hours later he returned home to the delight of his worried family. "Im sorry I was gone so long," he said, "but I ran into an old friend and he just wouldnt stop listening." What a wonderful compliment he paid to his old friend.

Nurses and doctors know the great value of listening to their patients. They understand that their patients need more than medicine and a cheery greeting; they need a listening ear. They are buoyed by the gracious attention of those who care enough about them to stop and listen to them talk awhile.

Teachers understand what listening means to their students. People want to be known and loved, not simply to be receptacles of knowledge. Students will learn more quickly from teachers who have learned to express genuine concern by truly listening to the concerns of their individual students.

Listening makes a difference because it communicates to people a sense of worth. If I perceive that you really listen to me, and remember what I say, then you make me feel that what I think and what I say are worth listening to and remembering. You generate in me a feeling of self-worth and that is a precious gift.

Most of us work in teams. To achieve success we must learn how to engage with our colleagues in the rhythm of speaking and listening. We must be willing to share our feelings, and to listen when our friends share their minds and hearts with us. We are born, most of us, with the ability to hear. The ability to listen is an art we must develop ourselves.

Fortunately the human ear does not hear all the sounds that are made in our world. Our Maker has "fine turned" our hearing. And we can learn to "tune out" some sounds. People living near railroad tracks tell me that after awhile they hardly ever "hear" the sound of trains going by.

My dad wore a hearing aid for many years. Boisterous laughter bothered him in a group setting, so he would turn his hearing aid down or off. That way he could listen only to what he wanted to hear. When he smiled a lot, but seldom said anything, I knew that his listening had ended.

In church when I notice a parishioner reach up and adjust the hearing aid, while I am preaching, I realize that the person has heard enough. For the rest of the sermon time, that person will enjoy a few precious moments of holy silence. Listening to the preacher is over; perhaps now the more valuable listening to the Father has begun.

Harvard scholar Charles Copeland was asked by a student, "Why are there no courses in conversation? Is there anything I can do to learn the art of conversation?" The professor replied, "Of course there is, and if you will just listen, Ill tell you what it is." There followed an awkward silence, which the student finally interrupted by saying, "Well, Im listening." To which Copeland replied with a wry smile, "You see, youre learning already!"

If you want the people around you to like you, a good deodorant and a smile will help. But listening to them, really hearing what they are saying, will work wonders. Though your listening may surprise your friends, it will surely bless them and you will feel better about yourself as you practice the art of listening.

You may even have to excuse yourself for being late sometime by explaining that you ran into a good friend who would not stop listening.

The benefits of listening far outweigh those of excessive talking. Look at this way: would you rather be known as a good listener, or old blabbermouth?

No contest, is it?

And you do have a choice!