Does anyone else have a constant running voice in the back of their minds? My little voice is always whispering “Keep everyone happy; keep everything perfect. Keep everyone happy; keep everything perfect.”

Over and over again, like a iPod stuck on repeat, this runs through my mind, just under my thoughts. On one hand, it motivates me to keep things together, pick up the house, and give a rip about the people next to me. It’s not all bad.

But sometimes, if I don’t realize it’s actually running the show from the background, it causes a lot of undue stress. Because I can’t keep everyone happy all the time, frankly. Sometimes the people around me just need to suck it up and suffer, and there’s nothing I can do about. For example, one of my children wants to spend 24/7 with her friends, and the other child wants to spend all waking moments with some sort of a screen in front of his face. They’re unhappy when I pull rank and close the house social calendar down and then take the iPod, put it under a wheel of the van, then gleefully back over it until it’s a pile of smithereens.

I haven’t actually done that to the iPod, yet. But a mother has to have some dreams and aspirations, I tell you. Something to get her through the day.

But back to the voice in my head. I’ve realized it’s the first dragon I must slay in my efforts to be a better listener. My husband comes home from work and (occasionally) has things to tell me. And while my body might be still, pretending to listen, my mind is running through all the things that aren’t perfect and the people who aren’t happy– The dishes are piled up; I must wash them. Look, there’s a dirty sock. The neighbor kids are here to play in the backyard; my kids have been watching TV all afternoon. If my grandma shows up she’s going to see I haven’t scrubbed the fridge, I’m thinking while he’s talking.

Have I heard one word my husband has said? Nope. I’ve caught “blahblahblah-Ken moved to first shift–blahblahblah a baby boy for the blahblahblah.”

I’m doing my best to shut up the voice and really pay attention– to Eric, to the kids, and anyone else who happens to wander through my life. Last night after a meeting a friend and I needed to have a conversation, a real one. Not a hey how are you doing, I’m fine, gotta run kind of chat. We found a quiet space and I really, really tried to tune out the voice and tune her in. I knew my family was probably ready to go. I knew my husband, due to a slumber party that was planned at our house, was handling four excited children and a minivan full of sleeping bags. Is there a man on earth who likes to be left alone in this situation? I think not.

I tuned out the desire to run out to the van and make it all perfect for everyone because there were bigger issues at hand. My friend had something to say.

Philip Kenneson, in his book Life on the Vine, has this to say:

Carefully listening to another is itself an act of kindness, and it may sometimes lead to further action on another’s behalf. But how will I know what you actually need, or you me, if we do not take the time and effort to really listen to each other? In many ways genuine listening is a little like death, for it requires us to set aside our agendas for the moment in order to be fully present to and for another human being. In so doing we offer ourselves to others as vehicles for God’s presence and grace. (p. 150)

I agree. Genuine listening is a little like death, because I must set myself aside. Am I good at this yet? No, not really. But this is my first step. What’s yours? What keeps you from really listening?

P. Kenneson, listening

6 Comments on How to Listen: Start with Shutting Up the Nagging Voice of Perfection in Your Head

    August 26, 2014 at 12:12 am (3 years ago)

    That voice in my head does play by play. I need to quiet it to live more in the moment. There is a moment each week when I try to stop. It is during Friday night service and I try to stop and feel each part of my body and the blood running through. It might sound silly but it helps me to release.

  2. David
    August 26, 2014 at 3:59 am (3 years ago)

    Marilyn and I have been out walking the last two evenings, which has given us the opportunity to talk and listen. Unfortunately, such possibilities do not arise so often at home with the busy schedule of life with two teenagers. As for hand-held communication devices … your desire to drive over them is easily understood! I think John’s phone is permanently attached to his hand and that surgery may be necessary in the future.

  3. Jessie Clemence
    August 26, 2014 at 4:14 pm (3 years ago)

    Maybe it could go for a permanent swim in a Swedish lake!

  4. Jessie Clemence
    August 26, 2014 at 4:15 pm (3 years ago)

    It doesn’t sound silly at all! Is there a moment of quiet during the Friday evening service, specifically for this?

  5. David
    August 26, 2014 at 4:20 pm (3 years ago)

    Kayaking gave us a two-hour break from electronic entertainment this morning Jessie. But it did bring another form of terror. How a certain boy did not end up capsizing I do not know.

    August 26, 2014 at 10:49 pm (3 years ago)

    No. I take the moment or at least extend it. I find it extremely valuable/meaningful.