“O God, give us sympathy for those who are deaf. They live in a silent world so remote and so different from ours. We take for granted speech and music and the ceaseless sounds of ordinary life — to them all is silence, they cannot even hear the voices of their dearest friends” (Sid Hedges).
IT WAS THOMAS TRAHERNE WHO SAID, “IS NOT SIGHT A JEWEL? IS NOT HEARING A TREASURE?” One of the saddest facts about us is that we take for granted the gifts of seeing and hearing — and of the two, hearing may be the one we undervalue the most. It would only take a day of being deaf to remind us how blessed we are to be able to hear the voices of those around us. Yes, we can read the written words “I love you,” but there is really nothing like the music of hearing them said. There is no lonelier world than the silent world.
But it is not only sweetness that we should want to hear. We should also be willing to hear truth — especially truth that calls for us to change our behavior. As a people, Americans are typically religious, but we’re often guilty of what one writer called “the sin of sermon listening.” We listen, and even praise the presenter, but we don’t truly hear. The words don’t sink in. We don’t act on them. And this kind of “hearing problem” is not physical. It is moral and spiritual.
Peter Drucker once said, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” Hearing what “isn’t being said” is not an impossibility; it occurs when we wisely and sympathetically listen with our hearts as well as our ears. As Jeremy Taylor put it, “It is not the eye that sees the beauty of the heaven, nor the ear that hears the sweetness of music, but the soul.” If all we hear are the sounds that enter our physical ears, we will miss many of the most important messages in life. And this is true even within ourselves. It takes skillful listening to hear what our own hearts are saying.
Whether it’s our own heart or the hearts of others that we are hearing, what we often hear are the groanings of a broken heart. Even at its best, this life still deals out hurtful experiences to us and leaves our hearts longing for comfort. We never meet anyone who is not carrying some private burden, and we never do any better hearing than when we hear the cry of a fellow human being for understanding.
“[Love] has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men” (Augustine of Hippo).