Stop Listening and Pay Attention

“Stop listening.”

It was not what I expected to hear from my counseling professor in seminary so I stopped doodling in my notebook and paid close attention.

“When you are with a couple, or a family, and what they are saying to you or to each other makes no sense to you, stop listening. Just look at them. Pay attention to how they sit – who is near and who is far. Look at how they move, toward or away from one another.”

I had been to so many seminars on listening. I had received and catalogued so many handouts and books on listening skills, that his lesson was both surprising and revolutionary.

Where we are and how we move in relationship with one another is often far more important and can communicate volumes more than what we say.

My professor’s simple lesson, “Stop listening and pay attention to where people are and how they move in relationship with one another” was the inspiration for a twenty year search into psychology and into the life, teaching, and relationships of Jesus.

Rooted in many modern schools of psychology is this simple idea. Location and movement were a basis for the psychology of Alfred Adler. Adler said, Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement. Adler wrote that movement makes us alive, and social movement makes us human. According to Adler, We attribute a soul only to moving, living organisms. The soul stands in innate relationship to free motion. Those organisms which are strongly rooted have no necessity for a soul. How supernatural it would be to attribute emotions and thoughts to a deeply rooted plant!

Paying attention to location and movement also opened up the Bible and the people whose stories live inside it in a new way for me. To understand the people, the Bible writers tell us about where they are and how they move. Consider these well-known people and their locations in the Bible:

Zacchaeus up a tree (Luke 19), the demoniac in the tombs (Mark 5), the lepers on the outside of town (Luke 17), the woman at the well in the middle of the day (John 4), Nicodemus who comes at night (John 3), Herod in Jerusalem (Matthew 2), Lazarus in his tomb (John 11), the disciples behind locked doors (John 20), Thomas away from the other disciples (John 20), and Peter and the other disciples returning to their boats (John 21). The list is not all-inclusive but enough to illustrate how the gospels use locations to tell us about people and how Jesus paid attention to location noting not only where people were but where they were relative to others. For example, it is not just that Zacchaeus is up a tree, but he is up a tree away from the crowd.

As you live into 2014, in those relationships in your life which are the most confusing, stop listening and pay attention for a moment to where you are and how you move.

(For more information, see The Psychology of Jesus 2014 Edition.)