A few years ago, I was attempting to prove that while my hearing was fine, my wife had been gradually lowering her voice making it difficult for me to hear so I scheduled an appointment with a hearing specialist. An hour and lots of money later, I had hearing aids because it was my hearing that was the actual problem after all. The specialist was careful to brief both of us on what to expect and what not to expect from the new hearing aids. Since I could now hear, I listened carefully–and am glad I did because of what began to happen.
I was hearing everything. After getting the devices fitted, we went shopping. As I was standing in line, I heard the conversation between a couple several spots behind me in the line–did I mention that the new hearing aids have both forward and rear facing microphones? I heard the squeaks and rattles in the car, the rustling of the groceries in the back, the raindrops hitting my hat. Everything was clear and audible and eventually annoying.
I would have been tempted to rush back to the dealer and have him readjust the hearing aids, except he had warned me about this. My hearing had been slowly deteriorating over the years and I hadn’t realized I wasn’t hearing all this stuff. Normally, our brain processes out most of the extraneous noise–but because my hearing had been bad, the areas that do that processing had to be retrained to ignore the stuff I could now hear but really didn’t need to hear.
We all have somewhat selective hearing. Right now, I am working in our living room. There is an air purifier running by the living room door. The kitchen fridge adds to the noise level. If I focus, I can hear the dehumidifier in the basement. The fan in my laptop cycles on and off. The dog flops and walks and does whatever else he does. With my hearing aids, I can now hear all that stuff.
But I have had them long enough that my filtering systems are back at work and so I only hear them when I choose to or something goes wrong with them. My hearing is normal in that I can hear it all and depend on my brain to select what I really need to hear, except for a few minutes immediately after I put the hearing aids on in the morning until the filtering process kicks in.
This selective sensing works in most areas of life. I look out the window and see the trees, the deer, the squirrels and the salt marsh, ignoring the lawn, the wires and the neighbour’s cat. I can smell the cinnamon from my breakfast granola and not notice the slight odour of wet dog. I notice the perpetual pain in my left knee from but ignore the lesser pain in my right knee.
And on the larger level, I stand in the pulpit every Sunday and look at the congregation members. I know these people–remember, I pastor small churches. As I talk with them before and after the service (and sometimes during), I see and hear lots of things, some of which I actually pay attention to and some of which I don’t.
I see the need of the person I know is struggling with grief and the related issues. I hear the person who is struggling with some personal issue. I might perceive the tensions sitting between one of the couples in worship. I hear the excitement of the couple with grandchildren visiting. I am aware of the person carrying the burden of an aging and increasingly disabled relative.
And because I am a pastor, I often need to do something in many of these situations–but part of my ministry is knowing what to focus on and what to ignore. Just like I filter out what my hearing aid augmented ears pick up, so I need to filter out what my pastoral senses show me.
I have learned that the best way for me to do that is to open myself not only to the people but also to God so that the Holy Spirit can help me in the process. Left to myself, I would either hear it all, which leads to burnout or ignore it all, which is just wrong. While I am still learning that process, I have discovered a few things, which will be the topic of the next post.
May the peace of God be with you.