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Day 10 of Lent: Spare me the details?

February 22, 2013

Verse for reflection: “You know what I am going to say even before I say it.” Psalm 139:4

I’ve enjoyed helping interview people for the documentaries Mennonite Media (now MennoMedia) produced. This true story happened to another producer, who was interviewing an elderly woman whose husband had been murdered several months earlier in an apparently random shooting. The conversation was all recorded in the transcript.

“Do you remember your feelings during that period?” the producer asked, innocently pursuing the most relevant part of the story.

“Wait a minute,” Mrs. Todd (not her real name) protested. “I wanted to tell you about our marriage before we got to this part. You got the book backward! You’re asking me about his death, and you never thought to ask me about our lives together.”


Ouch. To his credit, at that point the interviewer backed up and listened to a grieving woman remember her life with a wonderful husband. I’ve tried to follow this principle when interviewing people for articles, radio programs and films.

How often do we tell people, by our attention or lack of it, “Just get on with the story; spare me the details.”

Yes, there is an art to summarizing a story instead of getting lost in irrelevant details, but how important it is to listen—really listen—to a spouse, a child, or a friend when they need to unload—with details. I’ve very guilty of this, especially at home.

I took a still-life oil painting class for a year. My teacher was always telling us, “Squint, squint, squint! You have to squint to really see the exact shades of red on an apple, the precise gleam on an oil lamp. You won’t be a good painter if you don’t squint!”

We also need to “squint” when we’re listening to someone. Figuratively in thus case: focusing totally on the other person and blocking out all the busy issues crowding my mind. The person can tell if we are listening with “squinting” ears.

This Lenten journey, perhaps we can think of God listening to us with “squinting” ears, and revel in God’s availability to us. It is important to listen to God, too, but today bask in the presence of a listening God. Our God is totally unbound by the human constraints of time, energy, boredom, the next task.

Action: Made in the image of God, we humans have similar capacities to be good listeners when others need to share their hearts. When someone—child, spouse, friend—shares with you today, give them your full attention.


Photo by Wayne Gehman for Mennonite Media, from the production of Shadow Voices: Finding Hope in Mental Illness. Pictured are Lyn Legere and Denver Steiner, listening to a young man in a peer-to-peer listening session. Lyn’s story is told in Shadow Voices and her struggles with cigarette addiction finally made it into a radio spot you can find here.

Most of these Lenten meditations, appearing Monday through Friday are adapted and excerpted from my book, Why Didn’t I Just Raise Radishes: Finding God in the Everyday, Herald Press, 1994.


From → Faith, Writing Life

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