Posted tagged ‘listening’

The Long Silence

December 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 22, 2019

                                            

Life seems to be noisy these days. Two of my kids will be at the Lions-Broncos football game this afternoon. They’ll stand out because they’ll be cheering for the Lions. Seventy thousand noisy lunatics and they’ll be there. 

Meanwhile, Carol and I will be experiencing a different kind of noise— the noise of our three month old grandson wondering where Mommy and Daddy are. Life seems to be diverse in its types of noisy cries and protests.

Sometimes life is so populated with noise that we can’t hear the silence. Sometimes in our rush to negotiate the situations of life we don’t recognize that there is a moment of holy quiet. 

In the Bible there’s the story of Abraham being given the promise that he will have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham, however, got a bit impatient waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise and rushed to solve the problem himself. The last verse of Genesis 16 identifies him as being 86 years old…and then there is a 13 year silence. Genesis 17:1 tells the reader that he is now 99.

13 years of silence from the heavens. It took that long for God to get Abraham’s attention.

Other than bleating sheep and angels praising God the story of Jesus’ coming is punctuated with times of silence. 

A silent Zechariah. A silent confused Joseph. A silent but obedient Mary. Shepherds in terrified quiet during the visitation of the angel. 

Silence has a way of focusing our attention on the next important word that is about to be spoken. Sometimes it’s a long silence, painful to sit through and confusing to our reasoning. Sometimes the silence is renewing. 

And when the silence is from God it is either unnerving or, troubling as this sounds, unnoticed. Some of us wait with anxious anticipation for what God will say and do. Others are so consumed with the chatter of the world that they haven’t noticed the tightened lips of the Lord. 

May today be a day of listening in spite of all the noise!

My First Dear Santa Letter…at Age 65!

December 14, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 14, 2019

                       

Dear Santa,

    

  I’m sending this letter through the air, kinda’ like your sleigh. I don’t know how my letter will get to you, but I also don’t understand how your sleigh can get to New Guinea and Newfoundland in the same day either. Makes me wonder if you have a business arrangement with Amazon Prime.

Anyway, I was never much for sending you letters when I was a little kid. My parents hid the postage stamps and my penmanship really sucked. I knew that the things I had circled in the Penney’s catalog probably wouldn’t end up under our tree. I never ever circled Towncraft underwear and socks and they were ALWAYS under there. Towncraft didn’t seem like it was your brand, but it was the brand of the company my mom worked for. I didn’t know there was any other kind of underwear but Towncraft “tighty whitey’s” until I was like…60!

Back to this Christmas, my list is short and sweet. Well, Enstrom’s Toffee would be the sweet part, that is!

The short part…well, you being up at the North Pole most of the time may not be aware of this, but do you have some kind of toy or device that would make me, and others, better listeners? I mean, there’s all that virtual reality stuff that you’re delivering this days, like those goggles that people put on that somehow take them into a different world like Avatar. (Back in my day we just had the ViewMaster that I used to watch an “episode” of Donald Duck in 3D!)

How much more difficult would it be to have a device or “persuasion”, that would increase our ability to listen to the essence of what someone else is saying without formulating our rebuttal in the midst of their words? 

Maybe this would be something that sorta’ looks like one of those new hearing aids that you can hardly see. The advanced model could even give a shock to someone who decides to get into a word battle before the complete thought is given. 

I admit my hearing has taken a dip from time to time. Just the other day I thought a young lady at one of my basketball practices said “my bad ass stinks”. I looked at her, somewhat confused, and asked what she had just said. “My passes stink,” she responded. I was relieved to know that was it, but, like I said, I’m misunderstanding and not hearing people as well these days as i did a few years ago.

I know, I know, St. Nick, there’s a lot of talking these days. It’s hard to separate the gibberish and noise from the messages and opinions. It’s like a middle school hallway during a passing period. You just want to run to a quiet room!

But perhaps we can make a short stride in a better direction. 

That’s it! You don’t have to worry about any Towncraft products anymore. Since my mom passed away five years ago I don’t feel guilty wearing Fruit of the Loom’s or Hane’s. 

The Enstroms’ though…

Friend Listening

May 20, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  May 19, 2019

                              

Carol and I are returning from a European river cruise that was awesome and memorable. Being in the youngest 20% on the boat made us feel like 65 year old teenagers! Suddenly, as we travel home, we’re feeling a bit weathered!

Our friends, Dave and Robyn Hughes, joined us on the cruise. They now live in Bradenton, Florida, but a long, long…very long time ago Dave and I went to high school together, he performed the function of being my Best Man, and I performed his wedding ceremony.

It was good! It was needed! It was heart aching!

You see, Dave and Robyn’s oldest son, Brad, passed away two years ago this month. His death was the result of an unfortunate accident. Brad was in his mid-thirties at the time of his passing. When I received word of his death I called Dave and we talked for a few minutes, but being together on the cruise was a chance for us to talk face-to-face, laugh and cry, journey through the dark lonely walk, and renew our deep friendship.

He talked, I listened, asking a few clarifying questions as he retold the story, but mostly just listened. A friend is someone you can laugh with, but, more importantly, a friend is someone who stays on the path with you. The path is adorned with bright flowers at certain times, but also potholes of misery at other times. 

Dave needed to talk. Grief causes some people to clench their jaw muscles tight in firm anger and anguish, while other people need to talk through it. It is the honesty of grief that  reveals the loss, deep loss, and its effects on different people in different ways. Americans still live in the land of denial when a significant loss occurs. We so often are in fear of looking weak, but grief is not about who is strong and who is weak. Grief is about healing the wounds of loss.

All of us have, or soon will, experience loss in some way. For Carol and I, all of our parents are now deceased. It’s a tug on our hearts at any moment. A conversation from long ago breaks to the surface and Mom or Dad seems to be right there…but they aren’t. 

So Dave and I talked, and sometimes rested in the silence of our conversation. We told each other old stories that we’ve shared umpteen times already and pondered the questions that have no answers. 

Friendship is about listening. It’s about taking the hand of the other and leading him into the unrest, and it’s about helping him look ahead in the looming shadow of the past. It’s allowing the other to ask the questions of spiritual doubt and confusion without rushing to the shallowness of snappy conclusions. 

I miss my old friend! I’ll miss the opportunity to stand on the deck of the boat and listen to his sadness, and to retell the stories of the pranks we pulled on each other and others. We long for our next gathering, wherever that might be…God willing!

The Scarcity of Friends

March 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            March 15, 2019

                                     

“A true friend is one who overlooks your failures and tolerates your success!”  

                                                                    -Doug Larson

My dad passed away 13 months ago today. He was a great father, a person of great character, and a man of faith. He left this life four months short of his 90th birthday. Long life, lots of good memories, but he outlived his friends!

There’s something good about being “the last one breathing”, and yet, there’s significant downside as well. Not that 89 year olds should be carrying a casket, but Dad had none of his long-time friends still around. Bill Ball, Ralph Carrico, Jim Rollyson, Walt Doyle, Harold Brown…they had all moved on to Glory! Thankfully he had plenty of grandchildren, two sons, and a son-in-law who were able to hoist the casket from the hearse to the grave site. 

When Bill Ball passed away in the summer of 2017, it was also the finale of friendship for Pops. In the midst of the new reality- the absence of his friends- there was an unspoken sadness, a silent weeping in his spirit. It caused me to pause and reflect on what made these five men so valued to my dad. What causes friendship to grow deep roots?

And gloomy as it may seem, it caused me to consider who my pallbearers would be? Who are the people who will pick me up and set me down for the last time? I have plenty of people who are my family and relatives who would do it…I think!…but what about the others who will literally walk beside me for the final steps?

It’s a question that is revealing and, for some, disturbing. As a friend of mine once said, “I have many acquaintances, but few friends!” Those words said many years ago resonate with me more and more. I have, according to Facebook, a multitude of friends, but, in reality, almost all of them are simply acquaintances. A few of them could be said to be friends.

What differentiates between those two categories, friends and acquaintances? For me it’s the following:

1) A friend is someone who listens and is also willing for me to be a listener. It’s a two way street. Someone who only listens is simply a counselor. Someone who only talks is…annoying! There’s been times when one of my friends just needed me to have ears, and other times when he needed to be still and hear.

2) A friend is someone who holds the rope as you climb the rocks and pulls you up when you’ve descended to the depths. In other words, he applauds your accomplishments and helps you recover from the defeats.

3) A friend is someone you can call on at anytime and anywhere, never doubting in their willingness to rescue.

4) A friend is someone you can laugh with uncontrollably, as well as vehemently disagree with. Your friendship is not based on the two of you being like one another, but rather on a relationship that respects your differences.

5) A friend is someone who advises you to slow down, think and pray about it, before you do something stupid; and asks you “what in the world you’re waiting for” when the solution is as clear as your hand in front of your face!

6) A friend knows your weaknesses and temptations and sometimes has to slap you up the side of the head to wake you up to where you’re heading!

After going down my list the number of people who qualify to carry me to my final resting place gets whittled down, but I know that they are also the people who will grasp the handles with firmness and resolve. 

Down In the Back

January 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   January 13, 2019

                                   

I’m preaching this morning. Could be a short sermon!

As my Papaw Helton would say, “I’m down in the back!” The muscle spasms in my lower back came on Thursday night. I could blame it on the 20 missed free throws my boy’s basketball team…17 for 37! That makes me flinch just thinking about it, and when I flinch…Ouch!

Back problems are no fun! I’ve had them on and off for twenty years now. A herniated disc afflicted me back in 2001, and since then I’ve noticed the warning signs of the possibility of spasms before they arrive.

This time I had played early morning basketball at the YMCA on Wednesday. That must have lit the fuse! On Thursday night as I coached I could tell the back wasn’t doing well. When I coach during a game, I’m usually in a squat position, like a baseball catcher. By the second half on Thursday night I couldn’t do that!

And so I’ve become cozy with a heating pad, and closely attached to the recliner. Last night I watched “Enemy of the State” with Will Smith and Gene Hackman for about the seventh time. In other words, it was an unproductive evening.

I believe that God sometimes puts us on our back to teach us something. Most of us learn best in the midst of uncomfortable situations and personal pain. The story of Jonah’s time spent inside a big fish comes to  mind! 

It’s when we’re “down in the back” that our listening needs to be even more acute. Years ago a man from our church had a serious heart situation that put him flat on his back for several weeks. Afterwards he told me that it was a life-defining moment for him. He had been slowed down enough to have long chats with God. If he hadn’t ended up on a hospital gurney he would have kept going full steam ahead and been oblivious to the presence of the Almighty.

After I preach this morning to the saints in Simla, Colorado, I’ll drive back home and spend the rest of the day  with “R’s”…recliner, reflection, rest, heated up RICE BAG, and reading. I’ll pick up my “One Year Bible” and perhaps get ahead in my reading of the scriptures. 

Maybe I’ll skip ahead to the Books of Job and Lamentations! 

Being the Listening Church

February 5, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             February 5, 2017

                                    

In the New Testament letter of James he writes, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19, NIV) The church has, quite often, stuttered its way into deafness. Our loudness has clouded our hearing!

It’s a balance beam position to be in. On one hand the church is called to be the prophetic voice of God, speaking of hope and singing of God’s unwavering promises. And yet, like someone with a box of chocolates, the church has a hard time understanding that there is still a need for moderation, and we blabber all over ourselves.

Give a preacher a pulpit and he will build a church around it! What begins as divine opportunity escalates into an enterprise that we mistake for a movement!

It occurs to me that there are plenty of people willing to talk; even an overabundance of congregations willing to condemn and mandate…no matter their theological leanings. I’m just wondering if the church has lost its capacity to listen? The concern seems to be that if we aren’t speaking we aren’t saying anything, but perhaps if the church recovered its ability to hear that would speak volumes.

In a time of polarized populations, who is committed to keeping their ears unplugged? In a time of verbal venom who will, as James said, “be quick to listen?”

There are people that I avoid conversation with because they seem to be more interested in sharing lengthy diatribes than they are in whether or not I might have a thought. In admitting that I’m also confessing where many of us have holed-up! We reside in the shadows of quiet avoidance, fearful of expressing our beliefs and what it is that we really value.

Can the church regain its ministry of listening? To do so it must recommit itself to the urgency of mutual respect. Can the gathered saints sometimes agree to disagree?

My friend, Greg Davis, who passed away less than four months ago at the age of 41, would often get into political conversations with a woman named Terri Inloes, the librarian at the middle school he taught at. They disagreed more often than they agreed, but they always listened to one another, and they always discussed their views based on a foundation built with mutual respect. Terri recalls the specialness of those conversations and how they deepened their friendship with one another. It is a life story that the church needs to hear and understand.

Honestly, I’ve seen more examples of the contrariness of church people than the potential for peacemaking…and that’s just in reference to how people from the same church treat each other! Being listeners is a hard thing to be for people who are set on destruction!

My recent three weeks of teaching seventh grade social studies revealed a number of things to me. One of those that applies to this area of listening is this: Listening is a commitment, and there are those who refuse to listen because their lips get in the way of their ears!