I was bustling around the house when the phone rang.
Morning multitasking consumed me: making the bed, grinding coffee beans, getting dressed for a doctor’s appointment, dashing out to the curb with the trash before the garbage trucks trundled down the street.
And, importantly, keeping the radio turned up loud enough that National Public Radio could be heard throughout the house.
It was, after all, an explosive week in national news. President Trump’s visit with our NATO allies, the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the incredible news conference that followed. Each day brought jaw-dropping revelations.
Ever the news junkie, I pushed aside my mystery novel each evening and immersed myself in the latest “breaking” news.
So, I felt a pang of impatience at the early morning phone call. I needed to hear what NPR’s “Morning Edition” had to say!
A relative was calling, someone with whom I frequently chat. Often our comfortable conversations meander on as we trade family news and debate the world’s problems.
This morning, I wasn’t rude or particularly brusque. But I glanced at my watch — repeatedly.
He hadn’t had time to listen to the news, so what, he asked, was the hubbub about? I gave a cursory rundown despite the fact that with the amount of news I’d devoured I could have written a book. I made sure to mention I was on my way to the doctor, indicating more immediacy than necessary. We said goodbye.
Slowly, I felt the pang of impatience turning to a pang of guilt. Why did I need to hear one more news story? Was I keeping well-informed in case the State Department called me for advice? What was I thinking? What was more important than that phone call?
Did I forget, as the spiritual writer Vinita Hampton Wright says, that we should “love as if loving is the first thing on our to-do list”?
We often hear that we don’t listen to each other today. But in my own life I think the problem is that often I half-listen. Sometimes, like this particular morning, I am halfheartedly present. I forget that love should be the first thing.
One of my favorite prayer books is “Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits.” This pocket-size volume offers prayers, poems and insights from Jesuits ranging from St. Ignatius himself to Father Daniel Berrigan.
The prayer “Teach Me to Listen” by Jesuit Father John Veltri begins by praying that I listen to those “nearest me.” Sometimes those are the ones we most easily tune out.
Maybe it’s the 3-year-old asking “why” for the 30th time in an hour, the teenager with the gossipy after-school story or your spouse chatting about something while you absent-mindedly check your phone. We’re not entirely present.
Father Veltri goes on: “Help me to be aware that no matter what words I hear, the message is, ‘Accept the person I am. Listen to me.'”
Accept the person I am. Isn’t that what that toddler is really saying? That teenager? Your spouse?
Isn’t that what we’re seeking when we share? Acceptance. This is who I am. Hear me. Love me.
Often we blame social media and those ubiquitous smartphones for our lack of attention, and they most certainly play a part. But we’re in control here. We can put those phones down. We can prioritize loving in the present moment.
It’s no coincidence that the people who are the best listeners are the most prayerful people we know. It’s a good bet that those who listen to the Spirit first thing each day are also listening in each moment.