We all stared at one another in silence, dazed by his reaction. What began as a lighthearted family discussion had turned into my son storming out of the room, tears falling and heart sinking. Words flying everywhere.
I followed him, listening. Trying to understand what had happened.
“Listen,” God whispered to my heart.
I was listening. I was listening to the accusations and my heart began to hurt. I could feel my defenses rise into place.
“No, listen,” God whispered again. “Beyond the words. Listen to his heart.”
It’s strange. First there is listening and then there is listening.
One is an act of hearing what a person is saying. While you focus on their every word, meaning is extrapolated in regards to what their message means to you. You bounce their thoughts against yours. You decide whether you agree or disagree. You grapple with how their words make you feel. You enjoy or feel challenged, enlightened or entertained.
And then there’s listening. When you die out to yourself. When it isn’t about you. It’s about focusing on the other person. Their interpretation. Their feelings. Their meaning. This type of listening takes courage to wade through the muck. To seek for understanding and meaning, though the words come out flawed and sharp. It listens in the pauses and searches for the heart. It searches and waits for the deeper words struggling to come out. It is a gift you give.
I tried listening again. This time I turned off my correcting ears. I stopped thinking about myself.
I listened beyond his words and at last began to hear.
The poisonous darts lost their sting. It was never about me.
I heard his heart sing a sorrowful song. The day had been long and hard and uncovered an old wound. His body sore and his heart aching and full. It had only needed a word, any word, for his heart to rip apart at the seam.
“I just want to be alone!” He finally called out.
I could have left, but I knew better. I had been listening to his heart. I heard his plea to come under my wings. I heard his desire to be held until the remnant of the day melted away. I heard his longing for reassurance in his changing world.
“I love you.” I said softly. He was silent but leaned in. His body rigid and angry.
Then, it released. His lean frame heaved as the dam broke and his emotions flowed forth. He held me tight and then molded into my arms, like a newborn. Through the sobs, he spoke the words. The real words that wanted to be released. They were deep and beautiful.
When the well ran dry we enjoyed the silence and I thanked God for the lesson.
Children are constantly communicating. But while navigating through emotions, they are not always adept at saying what needs to be said or what they really want to say. But if we are wise we will recognize these opportunities for God to teach us how to listen to hearts. And if we are alert, we may stumble upon a rare treasure of seeing into the deepest parts of their souls.