No matter what our occupation, we tend to think that our work, our agenda is important. It is almost in our nature to let ambition and drive push other people to the fringes of our awareness while we toil in an isolated bubble of self-importance. There are many methods that can shake us out of this selfish obsession but for me as a mother, it was my children.
“Mum, mum! Come see what I made!”
“Can you read me a book?”
“I tried and tried but it just won’t stay together.”
“Mum, can we talk?”
“Would you help me edit this essay? It’s due tomorrow.”
“Let’s do something together.”
Of course sometimes children need to learn patience, learn to wait but I discovered that usually their needs were immediate. Even if a problem seemed minor to me, it was monumental to one of my little people. A block tower which took 30 minutes to build and 30 seconds for a toddler to destroy was equal to an adult’s business deal that took 3 weeks to set up and a day to fall apart.
Brushing off their concerns was often a temptation.
“Oh, it’s nothing. Don’t over react.”
“Not now. I am busy.”
“Can’t you see that what I am doing is more important?”
To respond to my kids or in the case of any adult, to respond to interruptions to work, requires surrendering to the duty of the moment. To respond to an interruption often means we must put our agenda to the side for a moment and embrace the agenda of another person, especially if it is a mere child.
The biggest stumbling block to truly listening, especially to children, is our self-important business. Henri Nouwen SJ, a Jesuit author and university professor, complained to God about all the undergraduate students who knocked on his office door, interrupting his important writing. God’s answer?
“I just gave you that book to write to keep you busy in between appointments;
your real work is all these interruptions.”