Today I’m studying the talk Listen to Learn, by Russell M. Nelson. He gave this talk in the April 1991 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I wish I could say that I’ve always been the best listener…That I’ve been the kind of person who quietly listens to what is happening in the world around me – rather than wrapped up in my own anxieties or ideas. Or, that I’ve been the kind of person who was engaged and truly listened to what others said to me – rather than quietly waiting to say what I want to say.
Even though I know that I have a lot to learn when it comes to listening, I do value it, and I have been trying to be a good listener for years. I have also found myself, as a mother, often telling my children “You have one mouth and two ears so that you can listen twice as much as you speak.” They kind of roll their eyes, just like I did when I was younger. But it is such a wise saying.
In his talk, Russell M. Nelson quoted the proverb:
““Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise.” – Proverbs 19:20
He then explained:
“Surely wisdom will come as we listen to learn from children, parents, partners, neighbors, Church leaders, and the Lord.” – Russell M. Nelson
I’m not going to go through every point that President Nelson mentions. You can read it for yourself here. I will pick a few points out and write about them.
Learn to Listen, then Listen to Learn from Children
Russell M. Nelson stated:
“A wise father once said, “I do a greater amount of good when I listen to my children than when I talk to them.” – Russell M. Nelson
I have four children – my oldest is nearly 17. My youngest is 7. Though I’m not an expert by any means, being a mom is something I’ve done longer than almost anything else now. I’ve been “in the trenches” of motherhood for 17 years now. And I think that I’m really beginning to learn the truth of the above statement. I’m a better mother when I listen.
I have noticed, when I lecture, the glazed expressions that come over my children’s faces. At first, I’m tempted to get a little frustrated. Are you even listening to me?! I have even asked.
“Yes,” was the answer – usually mumbled!
Thankfully, the gift of the Holy Ghost brings everything to our remembrance. The kids look bored out of their minds because lectures are boring, and I’ve had enough boring lectures in my life to know that.
So, I’ve been trying to listen to my children. Of course, we can do this by hearing them. Sometimes that might even require putting our phones down. (hehe). But there are other ways to listen, too. Often our children say more in their behaviors than they do in words.
Things have been a little unsettled for our family for a little while now. We are in the transition of moving, but that transition has taken months. It is not easy for anyone – even though we have been infinitely blessed along the way.
Additionally, it is June. The days are getting longer, the nights shorter. The kids tire themselves out to the bone playing each day, but don’t seem to get a whole lot of sleep.
The physical tiredness and the “up in the air” feeling of our lives sometimes results in cranky or emotional kids. It could be easy to just tell them to snap out of it. It could be easy to lecture or yell. But it would be completely ineffectual.
Instead, by listening, the Spirit has helped me to see the real reason why my kids might be cranky. The words of a small tantrum are rarely the real reason a child is throwing it. Instead, if we listen – not only to our kids words, but to their actions, their concerns, and if we listen with the Spirit, we will see the truth of what they are “saying.”
My daughter, Sasquatch, was having a particularly hard day, and I was able to recognize, She needs sleep. She needs stability. She needs love. I wasn’t able to put her to sleep at the moment (she is 9, so she didn’t need a nap. I just needed to be sure she went to bed a little earlier that night). And yes, she needs stability, but we are still in the middle of a move, so that is out of my control. What I could offer her was the stability of a mother’s love.
Instead of lecturing her, I firmly told her to take a deep breath and stop crying. (Fits are not really allowed). Then, I scooped her up in my arms, hugged, her, and said “I think that you need some time with just me.” She went with me as I did errands, and I was able to be with her and just listen to her.
Now..it can be a bit easier to listen to a cute little kid rather than a teenager sometimes. President Nelson taught:
“The time to listen is when someone needs to be heard. Children are naturally eager to share their experiences, which range from triumphs of delight to trials of distress. Are we as eager to listen? If they try to express their anguish, is it possible for us to listen openly to a shocking experience without going into a state of shock ourselves? Can we listen without interrupting and without making snap judgments that slam shut the door of dialogue?”
“Parents with teenage youth may find that time for listening is often less convenient but more important when young people feel lonely or troubled. And when they seem to deserve favor least, they may need it most.” – Russell M. Nelson
I love this quote.
And I admit, I have it easy. I have two teenage daughters, and they are simply amazing. Yet, being a mother is exhausting, and sometimes I’m not all that eager to listen.
When I am listening, sometimes I’m jarred by the fact that my teenagers are their own people with their own opinions. I’m startled when I realize that soon, they won’t be living with me anymore. That they don’t think I’m an expert. I still have a 7 year old son who thinks I’m the number 1 source of all knowledge and wisdom in the world! But my teenagers are keen on the fact that I don’t really know all that much.
Compound a healthy dose of skepticism with a not-quite-developed frontal lobe, and you have teenagers that sometimes say things that…drive you a little nuts.
But, if we listen, if we really listen, then we will understand. In fact, we might even learn something. I’ve learned so much from my children. They are patient, submissive, faithful. They want to do what is right. They are trying to negotiate this crazy world, and they are doing it so much better than I could have if I was a teenager right now.
When I listen to learn, then I’m actually better able to parent. Listening is really interesting. The more I listen to learn from my children, the more that they have been willing to listen to learn from me. True listening (not being a dumb doormat, but real listening) opens a door of trust.
Learn to Listen and Listen to Learn from Spouses
President Nelson stated:
“…some couples seem not to listen to one another. Taking time to talk is essential to keep lines of communication intact. If marriage is a prime relationship in life, it deserves prime time! Yet less important appointments are often given priority, leaving only leftover moments for listening to precious partners.” – Russell M. Nelson
I think that I’m a noticer. Sometimes being a noticer isn’t that good of a thing. In fact, sometimes being a noticer tempts me to be a little judgmental. But I’m a noticer still, and there are times when it is helpful. Sometimes I notice things like how men and women, husbands and wives interact with one another. There are some couples I want to emulate. Others not as much.
One couple that I really admire is my biological father and his wife.
I haven’t had as many experiences with them as I would like, but I’ve had enough to really learn from them.
Every time I’ve been in their home, there is a palpable feeling of love. Does this mean that they are all cheesy and mushy? Sometimes Yes! Other times, they gently tease one another. They have dealt with hardship and difficulty. They have also enjoyed victories and triumphs.
Their ability to listen to one another even literally saved a life. One evening, after falling asleep, Regina awoke to a strange noise. She said that Jack was doing some strange “monster” breathing. She said that sometimes he snored from time to time, and she would nudge him. He would then shift positions or whatever, and the breathing would go back to normal. But this time it was different.
I feel fairly confident that if they were not the type of couple that really listened to one another and cared for one another, then what followed would not have happened.
Jack didn’t stop his strange breathing, and he wasn’t particularly responsive to Regina. This is because, unbeknownst to her, he was having a heart attack. She didn’t just roll over, ignoring this man that slept by her side for over 30 years. It’s so easy to ignore the person closest to us. Instead she was alarmed.
She tried to get Jack’s attention, but still the strange noises. Her daughter (my sister) and husband (my brother-in-law) happened to be staying the night with Jack and Regina. And my brother-in-law happens to be doing his residency as a doctor. Matt, my brother-in-law, came to the bedroom and immediately recognized that Jack was having a heart attack.
Regina was a champ. Despite the high emotions of the situation, she listened to her children – to her son in law. He gave everyone there directions on what to do – call 911, open the door and look for the ambulence, etc. He directed Regina on how to help him move Jack off the bed, and then how to assist him with CPR. She listened. And she saved Jack’s life.
This is a fairly extreme example. And it is an obvious example on why we ought to listen.
We, in the Mormon faith, believe in eternal marriage. When we are married in the temple, the verbiage of the marriage covenant not “until death to you part.” It is an eternal covenant, an eternal marriage.
There are some people who are in insufferable marriages – for decades. And that’s not even a fraction of eternity! Gross! Terrible!
I’m a noticer. I have noticed one couple who have a low-grade fight at all times. (Yes, there are times when the fight escalates, but it is never gone completely. How incredibly exhausting.) Because of this low-grade, neverending fight, there is no room for true listening – the kind of listening that teaches and informs. Instead, “listening” is a weapon. The husband and wife of this marriage are almost like bots – listening for keywords that can help them in their fight to destroy one another. This marriage has lasted decades, and I can’t even imagine the strain.
Not only have I noticed the terrible marriage, but the effects on the individual is also unmistakeable. Because of decades of refusing to listen, love, and understand, they have become changed beings. It’s kind of like getting a sliver that then gets infected. After a certain point, the entire being is septic – not only the source point that started the infection.
It’s so depressing.
Contrast that with a couple like Jack and Regina, who may not always see eye to eye, but they have chosen to be loving and accepting to one another. They have chosen to listen to one another. They don’t make assumptions about one another. Listening is used to increase their joy in life and to build up their marriage – rather than as a tool to destroy one another.
Which situation would you want to be in for eternity?
Learn to Listen, then Listen to Learn from the Lord
Honestly, we could start and end the blog post with this. When we learn to listen to the Lord, and we listen to learn from the Lord, everything else will flow naturally.
When we learn to listen to the Spirit and actually listen to learn from it, we’ll also listen to learn from our children, parents, companions, neighbor, and church leaders.
When we learn to listen to the Spirit, we will develop discernment because listening doesn’t mean that we blindly follow everything that our children, parents, companions, neighbors, or church leaders say. Sometimes they are wrong! Sometimes they are even hurtful! We have to be wise.
The best way to be wise – learn to listen to the Spirit and listen to learn from it.
I have found that if I’m listening to the Spirit, then I can live with no regrets. Even if things don’t seem ideal, I can feel confident when I’m following the Lord in my life.
I love the following scripture:
“Hearken and hear, O ye my people, saith the Lord and your God, ye whom I delight to bless with the greatest of all blessings, ye that hear me; and ye that hear me not will I curse, that have professed my name, with the heaviest of all cursings.” – Doctrine and Covenants 41:1
Often, I focus on the part that says whom I delight to bless with the greatest of all blessings. It helps me to know that God loves to bless us. But this verse also tells us about our role in being blessed.
We need to hearken and hear.
President Nelson explained:
“Scriptures recorded in all dispensations teach that we show our love of God as we hearken to His commandments and obey them.14 These actions are closely connected. In fact, the Hebrew language of the Old Testament in most instances uses the same term for both hearkening (to the Lord) and obedience (to His word).” – Russell M. Nelson
Hearkening and hearing isn’t passive. When we hearken and hear, we actively obey. We repent, we change, we proceed, we strive. Hearkening and hearing means that we let His words become a part of us as we put them to the test in our lives.
Finally, President Nelson advises:
“Carefully listen to learn from the Lord through the still small voice—the Holy Spirit—which leads to truth. Listen to learn by studying scriptures that record His holy mind and will. Listen to learn in prayer, for He will answer the humble who truly seek Him.” – Russell M. Nelson
Listening to the Lord often requires us to “tune in.” We really have to turn the dial and adjust the volume if we want to hear what He has to say to us. This is done when we study the scriptures, when we pray, and when we act according to what He teaches us.
I know that this is true. There have been times when I haven’t tuned my heart or soul in to the Lord. When this is the case, I stumble along through life – surviving. But, I’ve got to admit. I’m not all that interested in merely surviving. I want to thrive, and I know that the Lord blesses in abundance. He wants us to thrive, too.
I have learned that when I prioritize my health – physical and spiritual – I’m better able to hear the gentle promptings of the Spirit. I have learned that when I then trust what the Spirit is guiding me to do, then I’m strengthened and blessed abundantly. When I learn to listen to the Spirit, I’ve come to realize that He is all around me! That everything testifies of Christ and His love for me. That He showers His tender mercies on me in my life – even if I’m not always capable of recognizing them.
Through learning to listen and listening to learn, I have come to realize that the Holy Ghost truly can be and is my constant companion. That He is always gently speaking to me – of the Love God has for me, of my value and worth.
Can you hear?