Posted tagged ‘listening’

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!

 

Knowing That Voice!

September 19, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            September 19, 2016

                          

     My wife Carol still shakes her head in disbelief as she retells the story to people. It happened about twenty years ago now in the midst of a restaurant in Tempe, Arizona called Rustler’s Roost. Our family, along with Carol’s mom and dad were enjoying a nice dinner in the midst of the establishment. As we sat there sipping our Pepsi’s and munching on the pre-meal bread I heard a voice, a woman’s voice, coming from a few tables over from us.

I looked at Carol and said, “That’s Sue Burt!”

She gave me a confused look and asked, “Sue Burt?”

“Cyndi Martin’s step-sister from Arlington Heights.”

“How do you know it’s Sue Burt?”

“I’d recognize that voice anywhere!” Sue Burt’s step-father was Dr. James Payson Martin, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, a church where I served as Youth Director during my next year of seminary in 1978-1979.

It was now 1998!

“Bill, are you sure? You aren’t even looking at her.”

“Absolutely!”

Without delay Carol got up and walked over to the table where “the voice” was coming from and asked the young woman, now about 35 years old, if her name was Sue Burt. She was greeted with a confused look attached to an affirmative nod. Carol explained to her that I had heard her voice. I walked over and we reconnected for a few minutes after a twenty year gap.

Sue had a voice that was distinctive, unmistakable, just like a few other voices that we can easily recognize…Pee Wee Herman…Mister Rogers…our family physician. When a voice becomes known to you it isn’t easily forgotten. When a voice speaks into your life you remember it.

I find this is increasingly true for followers of Jesus. When we know the voice because our life has listened to it for a long, long time we recognize when the voice is speaking to us. In a culture of a lot of noise- or perhaps multiple voices- hearing the “true” voice is essential for a person’s spiritual journey. The thing is lack of intimacy with “the Voice’ creates a high level of voice-guessing. That is, God becomes the voice of personal agendas clothed in spiritual jargon. “God told me so!” gets used a lot to cover up self-centeredness or people on power trips.

Churches are prone to listen to the ten spies rather than to the “Joshua and Caleb’s”. People also tend to listen to the loudest voice rather than the whisper of the Spirit. The one who has the deepest intimacy with the real Voice often gets drowned out by the turned up volume of others. Spiritually mature voices are seldom loud. Wisdom and discernment don’t emerge out of turned up volume.

But when a person or a church truly…undoubtedly…unmistakably…undeniably hears the voice of God, the whisper of the Spirit, and the leading of the love of Jesus something that can only be explained as being of God is about to happen!

 

Storytelling Lunch

June 16, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            June 15, 2016

                                 

Telling stories is a devalued treasure. People are too jumpy to hear, too hurried to tell. When we stop and listen to the remembrances, the memorable moments, we realize how special the experiences is.

Like yesterday when I enjoyed lunch with my dad and his new friend Carl. They’ve only known each other for about three months, even though they were born just four miles apart from each other in the hills of eastern Kentucky.

I sat and was still listening long after all the food had been eaten. Story after story was told about their Navy experiences. I learned that my “Granny Wolfe” had to go with my dad to sign up for military service since he was still only seventeen. I found out he had flat feet, a dis-qualifier for the infantry, but according to the man doing inspections, good enough for the Navy! Carl and my father talked about their “lodging accommodations”, and other “luxuries” of their experiences.

I sat and was mesmerized by their humor, their remembering of conversations and details, their stories of being tested in shooting a gun. Since they were Navy they were told that they had passed…although both of them doubted the truth of that…but one of the two Marines who was being tested didn’t pass.

Our lunch table was punctuated with knee-slapping laughter. Richness in the moment can not be confined to a length of time. Like a fine steak it is to be savored and enjoyed. “Rush” is not a word that gives any value to it.

As I sat and soaked I thought of our addiction to movement. We move from morning tasks to lunch, and from lunch to afternoon responsibilities. We seldom have time just to sit and listen…and in getting things done we miss the opportunities of stories that live on long after the afternoon agenda gets accomplished.

Dad and Carl strolled through history, visiting Carl’s entertaining pursuit of family genealogy to discover the grandfather he never knew. His search brought him to a choice. His grandfather  could have been either a thief shot and killed in a barroom gun fight…or the captain of a riverboat.

He and his siblings chose the stream that pointed towards the riverboat captain. It becomes easier to talk to the next generations about a captain making sure a riverboat safely navigated the Ohio River, rather than telling the little ones that their ancestor was scoundrel who was also slow in the draw.

From there my dad talked about a certain river barge company that would name each of its boats after a woman…Abigail, Esther, and such.

Like two checker players they jumped from one story square to another. Each move began with words like “That reminds me of…” or “Well, let me tell you something!” Chuckles abounded and their faces lit up as they recalled the moments, lost in the reliving.

At the end of that day I realized that the storytelling luncheon was the most important thing that had happened to me. It was my biggest accomplishment…and I had just sat and listened!