Hard of Hearing

There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.           ~ G.K. Chesterton

Listening is hard. Hearing is even harder.

Years ago, I was the Counseling Supervisor at very busy Crisis Intervention Center in a mid-sized city. We had a 24 hour crisis line along with a steady stream of walk-in clients.

I was the only one in the center late one Saturday afternoon when a 36-year-old client I’d met with often, walked in, clearly agitated. He picked up a bottle of glue off a desk, squirted it in his Coke, shook it and sprayed it all over the walls.

As I began to try to gently talk to him, he grabbed me and held a knife to my throat for the next 45 minutes. He was strong and I was at a loss. Regardless of what I said, he heard something entirely different. Stan was a paranoid schizophrenic who rarely took his meds and often heard voices. On this particular Saturday he thought he’d heard my voice making fun of him.

Stan couldn’t hear what I was really saying. He only heard what he was afraid people said about him. His deteriorating mental health made hearing impossible.

Stan’s focus was entirely on himself. And in that way, he and I aren’t so different. A memory or my opinion or reaction to a remark can shift my focus in a conversation off of the person I’m with and back onto me. When I’m listening to you but thinking about me, I don’t hear what you’re saying.

We all have mental chatter to tune out. We may listen to voices from our childhood or school or church. They may even be tapes we’ve made ourselves – voices that distort the sound-waves so that we add our own spin to another’s words. There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.

It’s the same with God. Sometimes I talk and talk and then I’m done..  

I skip over the listening all together. When I’m praying and I do all the talking, I become hard of hearing.

With God, and with others, playing my own tapes too loudly can lead to hearing loss.

Author: Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

35 thoughts on “Hard of Hearing”

    1. Hello joseph!
      Thank you for spending some time here and letting me know how it strikes you!
      It hardly ever rains down here in southern Texas.
      Last night was the exception and we were nearly washed away.
      As a result, kind of like in Egypt, there are suddenly frogs everywhere. I have no idea where they came from but they seem happy to be here.
      Most are just gathering, but one guy has been croaking for about 4 hours now. At first it was startling, then charming, then funny and finally kind of grating. Reminds me of me. 😉

  1. Debbie, I love your posts. You are so straightforward and truthful.

    Reading all the blogs that I try to keep up with, I sometimes feel as if I am dumber than a box of rocks. They are all Biblical information and full of the writer’s own sure sense of self. (I don’t mean that in a bad way, but some seem to have no doubts or questions about their faith or life; while my own life is full of questions)

    I get into stages where I flounder back and forth with questions about things and when I write them down for a post, often wonder if I am showing my ignorance. Am I helping someone else understand their own questions? Am I making things even more confusing?

    I feel as if, just maybe, my working through my thoughts and questions in a post may help someone else, but it leaves a sense of being exposed. My last two posts about the Boston Bombings are examples of my uncertainties and questions, but what a positive response from those that came and read them.

    You are one of the few that puts your own human failings and lessons out there for all to relate to and to learn from. I want to thank you for that. Coming here is always such a blessing, and I have missed visiting you.

    God bless.

    1. Dear Dru –
      Although I rarely write anymore, it isn’t because I’ve run out of my own ‘failings’ to draw on for material. 😀
      Thank you for you very kind words. I can’t think of anything you could have written that would have meant more to me. I was touched and surprised.
      Again, thank you.

  2. I am thankful for the truths you share, friend. I’ve learned most of what I know about this topic from you. You’re a wonderful example of the truths here! Thank you for putting it into words for all of us. This is not a skill that comes naturally and always could use some refreshing. Thank you!

    1. Heidi –
      Sometimes I think ‘hearing’ is about the MOST unnatural thing in the world.
      I know how much work it is. More to the point, I know how important it is.
      STILL, I catch myself not concentrating and floating off in self-preoccupation.
      This is an area I need a lot of work on.
      Thank you for never giving up on me, even when I am hard of hearing.

  3. Hi Debbie…. I went through something recently somewhat parallel to what you describe. There is someone in my life who’s trust I broke years ago. Now, no matter what i do, even if it is fulfilling their request or expectation to the letter, all they seem to hear is me deceiving them. It has got to the point where it feels like paranoid delusion. This is not only my observation, but the observation of others concerned. We don’t know what to do. It is like they are looking for every reason to distrust me. Their mind seems always to migrate to the time I broke trust and their pain and unforgiveness over the situation taints the facts and contorts them back to them and what they felt they experienced. It frankly feels somewhat hopeless at this point and I guess I have to accept that they are just sick, and sadly getting sicker.



    1. Chaz– I’m going to break in here and just add my two cents. I’ve experienced that also, as an addict in recovery who tries to live my amends and has had to come to terms with certain relationships and their ‘toxic’ take on me. Perhaps it’s their take on relationships and life in general and has little to do with the past, really. I find that resentment and unforgiveness is a bitterness that grows like mildew in the damp recesses of the past. We can choose to let go or we can keep growing the poisonous green. My goal is to focus on me, not their response. It’s what I’m sure you’re already doing. Yes, some people choose to keep the sickness growing. I try not to breathe in the spores.

      1. Wow Heidi…. powerful analogies! “I find that resentment and unforgiveness is a bitterness that grows like mildew in the damp recesses of the past.” Thanks!

    2. Hello Chaz –
      I’m so very sorry.
      Forgiveness seems to have been put on-hold.
      If a person in your life can’t ‘hear’ you because he/she is unwilling to let go of the past wrongs, even if you could do/say everything perfectly, it wouldn’t matter.
      There are some very deep ruts in the record and some choose to stay stuck.

      There are those who wear their resentments like a garland.
      Others cling to them like a lifeline.
      Letting go – forgiving, really seeing and hearing someone who has previously hurt us means we have to then step up and take responsibility for our own actions and reactions. That’s something an embittered person is loath to do.

      Sometimes all we can do, when we’ve done all we know to do to ‘make amends’, is to pray for the health and heart of the other person and take a step back, careful to not let any resentment over their continued resentment take root in our own hearts.
      Heidi put it well: “My goal is to focus on me, not their response”.

      Grace and peace to you, Chaz.

  4. There is so much in this .. so much for me to pray about, gracious friend. Thank you and God bless you always and the messages He sends us through you.

    1. Hi Judy!
      I think being wholly present for/with someone is such a gift – but one that’s rarely given.
      I’m appalled at how often I find my mind surfing during a conversation.
      I’m pretty sure that this is something I’ll always have to work on.

  5. This is SO TRUE! I play those tapes all the time. It’s amazing how much of my own chatter I hear when I’m trying to listen to someone else. Thank you for this timely reminder to turn down the sound in my head when I’m trying to listen to another.

    1. Steven –
      You’re so open. You’re always making applications to your own life instead of trying to see how it would fix someone else! I really admire that!

  6. Well written truth. Communication may be the ultimate challenge, a weapon of the enemy to break or make us–and the sense of futility may send us deeper into labyrinthine cryptic enigmas of mystery, or poetry… Surely in Heaven, the language will be “clarity” (although someone told me last week, we’ll need to say our password at the Pearly Gates!).

    1. Jaels –
      Hmm… I think the password part has already been taken care of.
      In Heaven, I’m pretty sure He, not we, will be the focus and the language will be all love and praise! 😀

  7. Awesome post, Debbie. It’s even more difficult to “hear” people through the internet. When people write a blog, and/or comment, we can’t hear tone of voice or see their expression. We may misinterpret it through our own filters, the way we see the world. I remember seeing a lecture at a church I used to attend about how we have filing cabinets in our heads filled with old files from our pasts. We yank one out with a past experience and compare it to the present experience, and may be reacting to someone from that past experience instead of the present one. And, oh how true that we get the chatter in our minds going so much that we may miss a sign from God.

    Didn’t mean to go on, but this was so good. Thank you for sharing it. I audibly gasped when I read what happened to you. I’m so glad that you made it out okay.

    1. Hello Lori!
      The filing cabinet makes a good analogy. I’ve had to pray that God will erase some files – unless He knows I need to remember them – and bring others to mind so I won’t forget the truths learned.

      And you make a great point. 90+ of communication is interpreted through the reading of non-verbals (facial expressions, inflection, tone, body positioning etc..). That makes it so easy to misinterpret the written word. I think this is a particularly difficult thing for bloggers who often make themselves so vulnerable as they share their hearts and stories with the “great unknown”.

      About the story I shared – I wasn’t hurt at all. I was, however, just over 6 months pregnant when this sad encounter with Stan took place. I wasn’t particularly afraid, mostly my heart ached for him and I was worried about the sweet baby I was carrying.

      Fortunately, our center shared a building with The United Way offices. The Director came over to talk to me – saw what was happening and called the police.

      1. Gosh, I have so many thoughts and emotions racing, thinking about what happened to you. Too many to type in a comment. It is kind of taking a risk when we bloggers put ourselves out there and we aren’t sure if we’ll be understood or not. I commented once and I don’t know if I misunderstood the blog post or they misunderstood my comment. I walked away confused, but accept that sometimes there may be misunderstandings. I admire what you do, and find it fascinating.

  8. This is so true Debbie – It’s not always a mental condition either. Our imagination brings different life to the words we hear and more assumptions than truth,

    1. I totally agree Judi. What a beautiful world it would be if we totally listened to other people without regard for our own agenda(s). I read something on your FB page, Judi, that was quite benign. Something about grace … “I have let go of (something or other) and isn’t it time you did too” … paraphrased, of course. I heard my mother actually saying those words. And, instead of feeling Grace, i felt slapped. I’m pretty sure I’m not stark-raving mad, but it is amazing how perspective and “old habits” die hard.

      As you said Debbie, “things from our past”. I’m sorry I haven’t been around to comment on your posts. I’ve been pretty happy and busy lately. I miss you lots! EA! Hi to Heidi too!

      1. Mel –
        Never worry about not reading my posts.
        I’m just so happy to hear that you’re busy being happy!!!
        That’s a sign (to me) that the ‘things from your past’ are starting to pale in comparison to the beauty of your present/presence! 😀

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