Fourth Tuesday in Advent: Listening
Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
Everybody needs somebody to listen to them. I found my listener in Mrs. Thelma Hill, who taught me English at East High School.
Mrs. Hill terrified most students, because she brooked no nonsense in her classes. I was attracted to her, however, because of her formidable intellect and her rapacious appetite for reading, and I found reasons to hang around her before and after school. During my senior year, I became one of her student assistants, hoping that she would invite me to visit her at her home. (I had heard about these “home visits” from other student assistants.)
When the invitation finally came, I was afraid to reveal much of myself to this woman with the almost perpetually scowling visage. Yet Mrs. Hill won my undying devotion when I told her that another student had stolen the paper I had written for English and passed it off as her own. With Solomonic wisdom, Mrs. Hill discerned the truth and meted out an appropriate punishment to the thief. That’s when I finally felt free to pour out my wildest dreams to her without fear of ridicule or rejection.
“I want to be a writer,” I confessed one day as we sat on Mrs. Hill’s living room floor, sipping iced tea and listening to Mozart.
“You can do it,” she said.
Those four words of hope have sustained me for many years. When I abandoned my dream for a while, thinking it was foolishness, I could hear Mrs. Hill reminding me: “You can do it.” When I finally started writing again and rejection slips outnumbered letters of acceptance, I could hear her encouraging me: “You can do it.” And when an unexpected divorce shattered my heart and my self-confidence, leaving me wondering if I’d ever be able to write—or love—again, I felt Mrs. Hill cheering me on: “You can do it.”
I believed Mrs. Hill then and I believe her now, not because she mouthed platitudes she had learned in How to Handle Students 101, but because she listened to me.
Everybody needs a good listener. The author of Psalm 116 discovered that God is a good listener. To have someone listen to him changed the psalmist’s life.
Listening is not something that most of us do well. We are easily distracted by cell phones shrilling, Twitter “tweets” chirping, and the voice or bell that signals the arrival of e-mail in our in-boxes. Many of us find it easier to incline our ears to our electronic gadgets than to the humans with whom we live.
Advent is a time to rediscover the lost art of listening, first to God, and then to our families and friends, co-workers and students. Listening is a priceless gift, one that will outlast all the toys and trinkets under the Christmas tree. By listening, I am saying, “You are important to me.” By listening, I just might change someone’s life.