Every service touches me in a unique way and with each funeral I seem to come away with a life-lesson I needed to hear. Recently I was taught a valuable lesson as I eulogized a certain man. His name was Dillon.
For many years he had been a member of the church I serve but then, a few years ago, he moved away. Shortly before his death as his health was deteriorating, he moved back to the area, and when he passed I was asked to perform his funeral, which I was honored to do. There were many admirable qualities about Dillon, but it was actually his disability that taught me the most.
Some time ago Dillon had surgery for throat cancer that left him unable to speak. For all the years I knew him he had to use an electronic device to communicate. He would hold up the gadget to his throat and the vibrations would create a mechanical voice allowing him to speak. As amazing as this technology is, it was still somewhat difficult to make out exactly what he was saying. When I would have a conversation with him I would have to listen especially carefully to understand him. I would lean in and block out all the noise around me. If I listened closely, I could understand.
As I prepared my remarks for his memorial service it dawned on me that Dillon's disability revealed a disability I had, and perhaps one that many suffer from. It is a self-imposed disability that prevents us from hearing. It's not a biological defect or a loss from surgery. It is a failure to listen - to really listen. I thought that if I only took the time to listen to others with the same focus and concentration I used with Dillon how much better I could hear and understand what others were trying to say.
New Testament author James wrote a letter to a group of people that seemed to be having some inter-personal issues -- issues which were uncharacteristic for Christians who professed love and compassion. Part of his wise advice is this nugget: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Perhaps some of the anger and resentment these people were experiencing was because they were just not listening to one another. James appears to be suggesting that some anger can be diffused if we are more determined to lean in closely and really listen to one another. Jesus seemed to be onto this problem as well. On a couple of occasions he concluded his teaching with the curious phrase, "If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
There's an old Irish proverb that says "God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we ought to listen twice as much as we speak." Dillon reminded me that if I determinedly used those two ears, I could hear a lot more than I choose to. He reminded me that my ears only work when I lean in and listen. He taught me that if I really listen closely, I can understand.