“Would you like me to take that back to the kitchen and have them remove the head?”
I warily looked down at the fish that was eying me. Of course it was dead… and also beautifully prepared, by the way. But this “whole fish” concept was a bit unsettling. I quickly agreed that I’d enjoy my dinner much more if I didn’t feel I should be conversing with my entrée.
Many years ago there was a commercial for a heartburn relief product. It featured a man sitting on the edge of his bed, obviously in distress. His comment to his sympathetic wife who was offering him the cure? “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”
Along the freeways there are often signs that advertise a free steak. Free, of course, if you can eat the whole thing. There’s nothing that would tempt me to accept that challenge.
But there is a challenge I do accept, or at least I make an effort to remind myself to take the challenge.
This challenge was shared by a young singer in my children’s choir. When I asked the group what it meant to pay attention, she gave me her answer: "Listening with your whole body."
And then I asked her what that looked like. She was well prepared with her response. “You turn your whole body towards the person and look them right in the eye. And you don’t do anything else at the same time. And you listen carefully to what they are saying.”
What wonderful advice from a nine-year-old child! Advice that anyone, and especially those in a leadership position, should heed. But sadly it’s not always the case.
How often have I felt my comments weren’t considered worthy when sharing a thought with a colleague or supervisor or even a family member? Why? Because I could tell they weren’t really listening. They were attending to something else at the same time. Or, if they were looking me in the eye, it was obvious their mind was somewhere else. Their whole demeanor was a dead giveaway. They were as engaged in my comments as that fish on my plate that was staring back at me!
On the other hand, how often have I treated someone… a student, a family member, a coworker… the same way? I sometimes can’t even give them an answer when they ask my opinion because I wasn’t giving them my whole attention.
My father-in-law always gave our family a perfect example of whole-body listening. It was a natural extension of his interaction with people, and I know he must have been a beloved boss.
Early on I discovered this trait of his. As a busy corporate executive, he often brought his briefcase home. When he set up his work in the formal living room, it was a signal to the family that Dad needed to focus for awhile on business.
When I visited my future husband’s family the first time, I didn’t know the expectation of giving his father a quiet time. I walked into his work area and asked him a question. I don’t remember what the question was, but I’ll never forget his reaction. He put down the paper he was reading and fully engaged in a brief conversation with me. There was no indication I had interrupted him or that I was a distraction from something more important.
I saw my father-in-law in action with family and friends for many years until he died. He gave our three children and all their cousins the same whole-body attention no matter what concerns or news they brought to him. He treated everyone he met with that same “I’m interested in you” manner.
If only I could be more like that blessed man in my dealings with others. When I do follow his example, I am so grateful because I really do feel that genuine interest and concern for those I’m listening to. And I hope they feel it too.
If only I could also give my Lord Jesus that same attention. I know I should be joining the chorus of His creation in an ongoing focus of praise. I sing it often enough: “Praise to the Lord, oh, let all that is in me adore Him!” All that is in me. My whole self.
What does that even look like?
I know what it doesn’t look like. I know when I’m praying to Him my mind can wander or else I’m mouthing words that have no reference to my thoughts at the moment. What if I heard the Lord’s voice answer me and forgot what we were talking about? Even worse, what if I was so distracted I didn’t even hear Him at all?
Thank goodness I don’t have to deal with that guilt of not giving my all to my Lord Jesus. As much as I’d like to, I know I can’t always give him my whole attention, my whole being. He knows it too, and He gently and graciously forgives me. But that shouldn’t stop me from trying.
I realize, though, that my attempts at “whole body listening” are so meager in comparison to His overwhelming presence in my life.
Because God is the One who fully understands the concept of whole. He so loved the world… the whole world… that He gave His Son… His one and only Son… all that He had. And when that Son, my Lord Jesus, my Savior, touched me, He made me whole.
I don’t want to be distracted when I sing the words to that old spiritual: “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” I want to focus on that image of Him holding me close. That picture that shows I’ve got his full attention.
I know He’s listening to me with His whole being. And at the same time he’s listening to you too! Without ever being distracted!