Dental appointments are often a long process, especially with 5 children. My goal has been to always keep each person busy and quiet while we wait for each of our procedures. I remember a few years back, in an effort to keep them quiet; some of the kids would read a book or color. Now each of us has collected the plethora of electronic gadgets: Kindles for books; iTouches for music; iPhones for texting; DS’s for video games; Even my 4-year-old has a princess laptop to learn her ABCs and 123s.
Technology obviously provides great value in learning, communication and overall advancement of our world. I’ve begun to wonder the value of these electronics. How does technology impact our relationships and our emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being? Surely social media provides value in reaching out to long-distant relatives, classmates from years past or networking for employment opportunities. While waiting at the dentist, as I began typing this blog on my laptop, my 11-year–old daughter asked, “What are you working on, Mom?” I turned the question around and asked her, “How does it feel when Mom is texting or sending an email, and trying to listen at the same time?” She replied, “It makes me feel that whatever I am saying isn’t important.” Recently, a child psychologist told me that there is fine line between children feeling that “what they say is not important” and “who they are is not important” because they interpret their worth to the attention they receive. While I was out for lunch with a friend, she continually looked down at her phone to check an incoming message text. I started feeling that what I was saying was not her top priority. However, I had the understanding, as an adult that I was important to her. Children do not have this wisdom that comes with age.
Active listening is a practice of being fully present for another individual. As an active listener, you have a genuine interest in the person talking and want to hear their message. This often requires that we stop multi-tasking, refrain from giving our opinion, and limit our desire to shape or fix the outcome of their story. Being an active listener to those in our life, regardless of technology, is often a challenge. We are called upon daily to be active listeners in so many instances. A friend calls distraught and you are in the middle of making dinner. A co-worker comes into your office for the fourth time this month to vent about an unresolved issue. An aging parent repeats a story about a new ailment that they talked about yesterday. A child is looking for your attention, in the midst of attending to another child’s need. Almost all of us have experienced at least one of these scenarios. David Augsburger, the author of Caring Enough to Hear and Be Heard, said “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” ― David Augsburger
What did my children need from me, their mother, during that dental visit? On some days, based on my own busy-ness and energy level, I miss the chance and gift of attentiveness. I have to remind myself to be patient with myself, as pausing to listen attentively is a practice that needs constant renewal. As I paused in that moment, I could see my 9-year-old son really wanted to be consoled after he had a cavity filled. Another younger child wanted to be reassured that her procedure wasn’t going to hurt. My oldest daughter just wanted to share her excitement about the upcoming volleyball season. My 8-year-old daughter wanted me to glance over for a second to comment on her rainbow loom bracelet that she was making for the dental hygienist. And the youngest, was looking for me to hold her hand while she flipped the pages of her book. In reflecting upon that time now, none of their needs involved technology and all of their needs involved me being attentive to them.
Yes, it is absolutely a challenge to be attentive to others in our fast-paced technology world. With all the distractions and our need to multi-task, it is almost a battle to slow down long enough to rest and listen to the people around us. I certainly wouldn’t want God texting during our conversation or my prayers. When we pause for even a moment to recognize the precious people in our midst, it is often a surprise to feel the emotions that are evoked in our heart. And it is there in our hearts where we meet God. It is in my attentiveness to God and my family, where I find my life has an overall balance with my emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:5
This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at email@example.com. Peggy O’Flaherty, is a certified spiritual director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include “Who Loves You?” and “Why Clean Your Garage?” She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.