“Knowing how to listen is an immense grace, it is a gift which we need to ask for and then make every effort to practice.”
I had the great privilege to be the “mystery reader” at my youngest’s preschool on Friday. This, of course, was not my first rodeo. In fact, I realized it might be my last of these. Thus, I wanted to go out with a bang. I was prudent with my book selection – age appropriate, right balance of humor and learning, and a good conversation starter. I even scribbled down some pre- and post- questions that might enrich the dialogue with the five-year-olds. Based on my prior experience, I was ready for the pandemonium. Once you ask a question, the dam of decorum bursts and little hands go flying as simultaneously stream-of-consciousness observations start flowing. This time I was ready. As I was welcomed in, I sat on my tiny chair as they sat around me and began asking my preparation questions. “Who likes to color?” I asked, foreshadowing the topic of my story. There were no outbursts, no wiggly bodies. Instead most of the circle of tiny humans all made a little hand gesture which at first reminded me of a Hawaiian hang-ten. I looked toward the wonderful teacher with a little confusion. “It means ‘me too’ in sign language,” she said proudly. I was dumbfounded. There was not one outburst from these little tykes and they all listened but also indicated when there was a connection with something I said or shared.
As I drove home reminded about how great teachers are and why I could never be one, I also thought about how I listen - or don’t listen - that well in the “sharing circles” in which I might sit. Whether it’s on a Zoom, around a table, or even in a conversation with my wife, how am I showing that I’m listening and connecting without taking over the conversation, making it about me, or preparing the next thing I want to say? Even if it’s with an intention to show connection, can I signal my proactive listening in presence versus presentation? Whether we tend toward introversion or, like me, raging extroversion, how hard do we work to strike the balance of authentic connection? As I thought about all the important sharing that will happen as part of the global synod we are called to in the Church right now, I was reassured that if the preschoolers can learn it, certainly there’s hope for me too. Now I just need to understand why my five-year-old doesn’t do it at home. Perhaps she needs a better domestic teacher in her dad. Prayers for your connections this week!