Can you hear me now?

I hate phones.

One of my least favorite jobs, next to dusting frames at Lazarus, was answering the phone at the florist. I was thankful not to be at Pizza Hut wearing polyester, but I hate phones. Or at least I hate the fact that people mumble.

It was very stressful and I felt like an idiot.

“I’d like to order blah, blah, blah and my name is Gohdmsenstein and my phone number is 7483920848932903.” This is what I heard so I would have to say, “I’m sorry could you repeat the first part and the middle part and the last part.”

My favorite was the guy who yelled at me, “Don’t you know me, I’m the weenie man, I drive the hot dog car around.” I had to explain to him I still could not understand what the heck he was saying and I was in a different state where we didn’t have weenie men.

So, I get that sometimes it is hard to hear what is happening and I notice my hearing is changing. But, I sometimes raise my voice when my son says, “what?” the third time I have told him something. “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?”

Actually, I’m around youth a lot and many have an annoying habit of asking “what” when it would register if they just let it sink in for a moment. Okay, maybe it’s not just youth. Maybe I catch myself asking “what” when the thing I need is to be still for a moment and hear.

That’s weird. Why do we do that? Why is it easier to ask someone to repeat something, than to give our brains the space and time to process what is said and hear it? How can I listen better so I’m not filling in the gaps or asking people to repeat?

I make my living listening. Here is what I notice:

1. Don’t mumble. If you want to be heard, then say what needs to be said clearly.

2. If I give space when folks are finished, it may feel awkward but I hear better what is said.

3. I like to repeat what I hear and let the person correct me.

4. In acting class we were taught to fight to speak, but as a pastor, I have to learn to fight to listen. What I have to say is not as important as what I need to hear.

5. Avoid the phone. I still find it hard to listen on the phone. I need to see people and engage completely in listening.

6. Don’t explain directions or electronics to me. I’m not listening.

Maybe that’s why people love texting so much. It feels like it should be more exact and efficient communication, but I almost find it worse. Texting does not lend itself well to sarcasm without making people angry. I’m not sure I can have extended conversation without sarcasm. I also find it weird to figure out when a conversation is finished. How many times do I need to say “okay”?

I might be up for going back to CBs. I loved our CB and we had the coolest handle “Stagecoach” in our awesome brown and orange velour interior Coachman van. I could always hear on the CB; all that swearing was loud and clear.

But, we are here and now. And listening is not easy with the distractions, earbuds and mumbling, but it is vital. Vital in getting flower orders, and relationships, right.

• Tari Stage-Harvey is pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church. “Living Growing” is a weekly column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.

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