After church service one Sunday I was talking to my daughter in the fellowship hall and asked how her daughter was doing. This was our very first grandchild and we were excited to be part of her life. “She’s being naughty today,” my daughter said showing a bit of frustration, “she’s not listening.”
“Actually,” I said, “she’s not being naughty; she’s being two. What you need to do is to train her to listen. Don’t you remember when you were young how we used to go through those lessons on the skill of listening?” I continued, “If you would take just a few minutes every day and practice listening with her, it will make all the difference in the world. She will actually learn what it means to listen and will even become good at it.”
The truth is that children don’t come out of the womb knowing how to listen. In fact, it’s completely the opposite; they don’t have the slightest idea what it means to listen to parents or anyone else in authority and because they were born with a fleshly nature, they resist the whole idea.
I remember reading a report put out by the Minnesota Crime Commission that perfectly describes the condition every child is born with; “Every baby starts life as a little savage. He is completely selfish and self-centered. He wants what he wants, when he wants it – his bottle, his mother’s attention, his playmates toys, his uncle’s watch. Deny him these wants, and he seethes with rage and aggressiveness, which would be murderous were he not so helpless. He is dirty. He has no morals, no knowledge, and no skills. This means that all children, not just certain children, are born delinquent. If permitted to continue in the self-centered world of his infancy, given free rein to his impulsive actions to satisfy his wants, every child would grow up to be a criminal, a thief, a killer, and a rapist.” That’s enough to get any parent’s attention.
Having been born with a sin nature, God asks parents to raise children in an environment where they will learn to listen to authority, be respectful, and to learn to discipline themselves so that when they are older, they can come under the authority of God and discipline themselves for a life of godliness and blessing to others.
Several verses give us that same perspective. “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” Ephesians 6:4.
Here’s another way to look at it; would you be frustrated and upset if your two-year-old doesn’t understand the finer points of calculus? “Of course not, they don’t have the capacity for calculus and haven’t even learned the basics of addition,” you would probably say in response. Exactly right. You don’t get frustrated and upset because they don’t understand mathematics, so why do you get frustrated and upset because they don’t understand how to listen?
For some reason, parents expect children to inherently understand listening and when they don’t listen, they get upset with the child and everybody’s frustrated. Listening is actually an advanced skill. It’s like calculus for the soul. As a case in point, each of us might ask ourselves how we are doing in regards to listening to God. If you’ve mastered that, then you have certainly attained an exceptionally high level of maturity. Listening is calculus for the soul.
Learning to listen and learning mathematics actually have quite a bit in common. How do you learn math? You’re taught the principles, starting with the basics, learning by repetition. You don’t say to a child, “Now three plus four is seven, got it? I’m never going to repeat that again and if I have to repeat it again, you’re in big trouble.” No, you patiently repeat the instruction until the child grasps the concept in their mind. Over and over you teach it until the child has mastered it and then you move on to the next lesson.
If a child gets a math problem wrong, do you get frustrated and upset and lecture the child? No, you understand that learning also includes making mistakes and you continue pressing on, patiently teaching the lessons the child needs to learn and grow.
So I asked my daughter if I could work with our granddaughter for a few minutes. She was all for it, so I took my granddaughter where we could be alone and I said, “We’re going to do something really fun, we’re going to help you learn to listen. Do you know what listening is? It’s when I ask you to do something, and you do it right away. Let’s practice. Stand right here by my side and then walk away and as soon as I say stop, you stop. Let’s try it.” At first she went about three steps and I said stop, then about 10 steps and then 15. That’s when she took off running. We laughed together, I brought her back to my side and started over. She wasn’t ready for 15 steps, but she had mastered three steps perfectly.
Our daughter then did the same thing at home with her and the change was remarkable. Listening is a skill that must be learned and if we would be much more patient and understand that learning is a process filled with mistakes, we would be a lot less frustrated and our children would be much more capable of listening.
“Well, what about the child who is willfully rebellious?” Someone might ask. Great question; I’m looking forward to talking about that in another blog. I hope you keep coming back to read more.