Listening with the heart

(Mar-20-2012) As a writer for many years, I have tried to learn to listen with my heart when people speak. What I mean by that statement is I want to hear more than just the words people are saying to me. One can learn a lot by facial expressions, sound of the tone chosen, and points of emphasis. The same exact words can seem so different in print or when spoken verbally and clearly in love, in hate, or somewhere in between. Often, when the same thoughts are put into print, they can seem cold, harsh, or critical, when perhaps, the intent was not meant to be so damning.

This past weekend I have had occasion to speak with and learn a great deal about four different teens, all of which are good kids, not in any serious trouble, and well loved and cared for by parents and other family members. I trust I was listening with my heart.

All four of these good kids are struggling with some very real issues and need love, direction, guidance, and help to reach adulthood and become contributing members of society. For our older readers of this column, it is not the same world in many ways you and I grew up in when neighborhoods were safe, school chums were lifelong pals, and home meant something special.

One of the teens is a beautiful girl, just now 15, and really a stunning young lady, whose father is so super strict, he hardly lets her out of his sight. His motives are perhaps good. He loves her and wants to protect her from all evil, and especially that of a masculine gender. Boys call the home and want to speak to the daughter much to his despair. One even dared to ask her out on a date. The father said “No,” loudly and clearly when the date was to be to a teacher/sponsor event where adults would be present. He said the only condition he would permit his daughter to attend is if he and his wife accompanied her to the ball, which happened to be a military one. The daughter, I failed to mention, is a top sharpshooter and the best marksman in three local Atlanta area high schools. She has never been allowed to hang with her friends or stay over without an intense investigation and tons of rules. She said it was far too embarrassing for the parents to accompany her to the military ball and that she would prefer just skipping it and staying home.

I thought that was a shame. She is beautiful, never in any trouble, and really deserved the award she was to be receiving in front of her peers. She even had a bright red formal dress to wear and she was excited. There is such a thing as too much love and protection, and often, a child in this situation will rebel and go the other way just as soon as they get the first opportunity.

The second teen I have been talking with left her home and moved in with another family simply because she could not bear the conditions where she lived. This girl is dynamic, very beautiful, and has a bright, inquiring mind. She can and will be something special with just the right direction, support, and guidance. Teachers and church leaders have tried to be helpful, but there are limits. I pray that this is a right choice for her at this time in her life. She has so much to offer if she can just make it to adulthood.

I know both a boy and girl, not related, and not connected by a relationship, that have stated their intentions to move out of the parental home, get a place of their own, and make a charming, fun-filled life for themselves. Only problem is in both cases, they have no reputable job, no vehicle, and are still in school. Other students that have left home and live alone to fend for themselves have tempted them. You might be surprised at the number of young teens that live alone these days. One told me recently, “Yea, it was a lot of fun to live in the trailer by myself for about a week. And, then, I wished I could just go home, but I can’t.”

What the other kids see is immediate freedom, no boundaries, and lots of fun. There are few rules because these parents are too busy to rear them. Out of sight, out of mind. Little do the youngsters realize that these kids often do not have a good meal to eat, worry about the little electric bill being paid, and have to ask others to pick them up and give them a ride to where they are going. Not even mentioning sickness, the flu, new clothing, insurance, and trips because these items have crossed their thinking patterns as of yet.

Adults in many cases want to help their own and other children so much that they make life too easy. Everything is handed out on a silver platter and there are no consequences for bad choices or mistakes. It is simply easier to say, “yes” rather than a firm “no” to hard questions or ill-advised behavior.

I know in my heart I wish I could give my children the tools they need to make good choices, but I also know that my words of advice would likely fall on deaf ears. There are other young people God has put in my path that I want to help, but there are limits to that help. In some cases, these young individuals have to learn principles for themselves. We cannot do it for them.

C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors wrote, “Experience, a brutal teacher, but my God, do we learn.” And, learn, we do, more by our bad choices and the consequences that follow, in some cases, than by the good ones we make.

Contact Brenda Cannon Henley:
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