Recently, my husband and I found ourselves in a place I think many couples with young kids encounter; disconnected because of a long period of distraction. It took a miniature crisis in our home to help us realize we had lost track of one another in the midst of the business of our overtaxed life and the relentless neediness of two toddlers. As we sought to reconnect, we found ourselves coming back to one simple way of being that fused us together; tuning in to one another. Tuning in meant paying serious attention to the other’s needs even when they weren’t urgent. Tuning in meant noticing how our partner was feeling that day rather than just passing off the kids while listing off what needed to happen next. Tuning in meant turning off the TV and other distractions and spending time gazing into each other’s eyes again. Tuning in included asking questions that were probing and mirroring back what was heard. Tuning in was honestly a lot of work, so I can see why we had stopped bothering to do it.
We were busy and tired and wanted to just relax when we finally had a moment. You see, we had been going through all the day-to-day motions. We had been accomplishing everything that needed to be done. We had been checking all the boxes, paying all the bills, doing all that was necessary. And we somehow thought that our relationship was just fine and didn’t need all that extra time and attention. Man were we wrong! Once we decided to tune back in, joyful connection rekindled in our relationship. We were reminded why we had chosen each other in the first place. We found ourselves stopping over a noisy meal with the boys, when pasta was being flung against the wall to meet eyes and simply say, “I see you,” in a way that would remind us that there is a “we” beyond all this temporary chaos. So what does tuning in require and how can we do it with those we love in the midst of our overwhelmingly busy lives?
- Deeply Listen First
When the oboe plays the tuning note for the orchestra before the concert, it is imperative that everyone really listens before they start trying to match that pitch. That note sets the foundation for all that comes after. That note unites the whole ensemble. That note is the fulcrum on which everything turns. The orchestra has to take a long pause and listen to that oboist before they respond. When it comes to our relationships, we need to take a leaf out of the orchestra’s book here. This kind of genuine listening leaves room for the one we love to set the tone so we can meet them there in a way that acknowledges them deeply. This kind of listening requires the removal of distractions, so if you are constantly on your phone I can almost guarantee you that you are not giving this gift to those you love. In James 1:19 we are encouraged to”..be quick to listen, slow to speak.” I fear that so often, we behave opposite to this admonition and thereby leave those we love feeling alone and unheard.
2. Listen to Understand
Jen Wilkins says, “The heart can’t love what the mind doesn’t know.” With this in mind, I pose this question to you. How well do you know/understand those you claim to want to love? How much of your conversations center around them? How often do you ask them questions about themselves? Does conversation continually circle back to you, your issues and your concerns? If so, how can you move towards cultivating more curiosity about that other person? How can you prioritize understanding the other over being understood yourself?
You might be saying to yourself, “Well, I know my partner. We’ve been married for 20 years! I don’t need to ask these sort of questions.” Newsflash, my friend. People change and evolve. The person that you married is going through things at this season in their life that they have never encountered. As seasons change, needs change. If you are living with yesterday’s understanding of your spouse or your best friend, you are not tuning in and you are missing today’s opportunity to love them where they are. Incorrect assumptions about those we love can be relationship killers. Ask. Don’t assume.
2. Let go of Being Right
In many cases we are guilty of shutting down the conversation with our perceived right answers. It’s neat, it’s safe, and it doesn’t require any courage to interact in this way. Alan Alda says, “Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.”
There is the perfect parallel to this in classical music, so suffer with me a moment while I make a point. As musicians we are always doing our best to play in tune with one another. That being said, not every ensemble plays at A440 which is the standard Western intonation level. That means that if you are playing in an ensemble where everyone is resting around A441 and you are playing at A440, you are actually out of tune. Even though you think you are right, in this context you are dead wrong. How many times are we guilty of this same kind of thinking when it comes to someone we love? Rather than trying to tune into them, we are simply trying to change them because after all, we are right and they are wrong. What are we saying when we do this? Put simply, we are saying that being right is more important to us than the one we supposedly love. As this plays out it can mean that being right is more important to us than keeping our family together or maintaining that friendship. Is that really what we want?
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a better friend. A better spouse. A better teacher. A better minister. But in this age of preoccupation and distraction I think sometimes I miss opportunities to deeply connect with those I want to love better. Remember love and connection are for the courageous. It takes incredible courage to go someone else’s way. It takes grace to seek first to understand. Cultivating awareness around those we love means sometimes we will have to hear things we don’t like (gulp!). Remember that in every love relationship whether friendly or romantic, both parties need something deeply. Honestly, that need can be kind of scary (both to hold within yourself and to experience in another). But when we ground ourselves in divine love, we can be reminded that “perfect love casts out fear.” Valuing the needs of another human being above our own doesn’t come naturally, but as we learn to tune in, we can open our ears and thereby our hearts to them and envelop them in the love we were created to give.
2020 Copyright by Misty Tolle
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