“People are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time, to listen to their dramas and difficulties. This is what I call the ‘apostolate of the ear,’ and it is important.”
For the first time in 13 years, there is no crib in the Cellucci household. The tremendous freedom I felt unscrewing each bolt, as I disassembled it, was quickly replaced with the terror of realizing my rambunctious three year old Norah’s new freedom. Among her many gifts, sleeping through the night and going to bed quickly are not at the top of the list. My wife tends to do to the tough, disciplined, force-them-to-learn approach, otherwise known as good parenting. My default is the "let’s just get this over with" approach, which these days looks like me laying in Norah’s big girl bed until she passes out for the night. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this method really didn’t work either. Every time I would lay down, she would start to talk and I would shush louder and tell her in a stern voice she was going to wake the others. I also tried the ever effective strategy of making threats I could never really carry through (i.e. canceling Christmas 6 months from now). It wasn’t until in my exhaustion, I heard what she was saying: "Dad, can I tell you my story?" Instead of shushing, I responded, "Please tell me your story." It was a short, non-sensical tale only a three year old could piece together. After she finished, I said, "Thanks for telling me your story, I love you very much, now let’s sleep." With a smile, she said "Love you too," turned and conked out instantly. For three weeks now, I’ve been asking Norah to please tell me her story. I’ve asked her a question or two about her tale and as soon as she finishes sharing what’s on her mind, the first thing I say is that I love her and five minutes later she’s out.
Now this could be luck or it could be the strategy that works for only a few weeks, but as I waited the requisite 5 minutes for her to fall asleep after her tale du jour, I couldn’t help but think how often I "shush" people in other aspects of my life and leadership. Hopefully, not literally. However, am I really listening to the people I love and serve? Am I immediately responding to their attempts to share their thoughts by bringing up my needs or the potential distractions of making time for their voice? Do I ask to hear people’s stories? Do I ask the Lord to share the story I need to hear or simply demand the need I want? Who are you shushing? If you’re anything like me, it might be more effective if you try it first on yourself.