Chiming In … and Tuning Out
© Debbie Porter – 29th March, 2005
The clock was a gift from my husband, Steve, for my 40th Birthday. Not quite the Grandfather clock of my dreams – in fact, not by a long shot – but it was still a very beautiful pendulum clock for the wall, and the perfect gift for such a landmark occasion. After all, what
better way to symbolize the passage of time in a life, than by the giving of a timepiece?
I was delighted, and even more so when I discovered that it was also a chiming clock, marking the passing of every 15 minutes. Four notes were added to the melody each time, until the new hour arrived and the full 16-note piece was played, followed by the sounding of the gong.
It didn’t take long for that clock to become a treasured part of our home. The sound of the Westminster chimes was a regular reassurance that the earth was still turning and all was well in our little corner of it.
However, as the months went by, the clock-giver became a little less enamored of his gift, particularly when it sounded the hour right in the middle of a very tense movie. Steve put up with it for a while, but finally suggested that it might be better if we turned the volume down just a tad.
I didn’t necessarily agree with him, as it wasn’t exactly as if the walls were shaking every time the clock struck 12, but over two decades of marriage have taught me that compromise is often the wisest course of action – particularly over the not-so-important issues. So the clock was gently taken down from its place of honor and adjusted so that the sound of its chimes was a little less intrusive.
The months rolled by, as each season flowed into the next, and our faithful clock continued to keep the time and mark the hours – although a little less enthusiastically than it had done in the past.
Twice a year the wall clock was taken down and adjusted for daylight savings. With spring, an hour was wiped away … only to return once more, ever the cheerful and welcome prodigal, in early autumn.
This process continued for four years, until finally I realized that something strange had happened to our once exuberant timekeeper. It was still keeping the time, and doing so with admirable accuracy. The pendulum, although purely decorative, continued to swing back and forth like an avid spectator at Wimbledon – but something was missing. Then, as the minute hand slipped into place under the 12 with a gentle "click", I realized what that missing something was. Our chiming clock was no longer chiming!
Straining my ears toward it, I was able to hear the faintest, barely audible, whisper of the once triumphant Westminster chimes. It was there, but so soft that it may as well not have been playing at all.
When did this happen? How long had we been without our cheery companion chiming regularly into our daily lives? I honestly didn’t know – but as I stopped and thought back, I found it hard to remember the last time that I had really noticed the sound.
It would be easy to think that Steve had just kept slipping back to turn the sound down a little more and more. However, that wasn’t the case. Apart from that initial plea from my husband to lower the volume, he hadn’t knowingly changed the setting at all. Instead it was largely due to the fact that the little knob for changing the time was very close to the little knob for changing the volume. So every spring and fall, we were accidentally brushing against the volume control as we re-set the time for daylight savings; each time gradually decreasing the sound level until it was virtually mute.
Now that makes sense; but what doesn’t make sense is the fact that none of us noticed the growing silence. If the problem had been purely due to those accidental adjustments when changing the time, we would have realized straight away and rectified it. However, the problem was only partly with the clock. The real fault lay with the fact that we had long ago stopped listening for the sound of its chimes. The sound, that was once so comforting and delightful, had become not much more than background noise. A sound that had blended into our days and been labeled by our minds as completely ignorable … until it wasn’t there at all.
When that happens with a clock, it’s not the end of the world. When it happens in our relationships, it’s another thing altogether – and sadly, when it comes to our relationships, it happens all too often.
In the beginning, we can’t wait to hear what our loved ones have to say, and will hang on their words as though each one were a precious jewel bestowed upon us by a gracious being. Just the sound of their voice alone would fill our hearts with joy and delight.
But as time passes, we can become complacent and, bit by bit, tune those same dear people out of our awareness. Although we know that they’re there, and we still do love them, we just aren’t really listening to what they have to say, until finally they too become little more than background noise in our busy lives.
Too busy to listen; too tired to care. Too self-focused to show much interest at all. Like our silent chiming clock, the days, weeks, months and years pass by, until suddenly – hopefully – we realize that something is missing, and long to bring it back.
Many couples arrive at this point when their children have grown and left home, and they find themselves thrown back to those early days of their marriage when they were just two, and not part of a group. It’s then that the revelation often hits that somewhere in the midst of working and raising a family, there has been a major communication breakdown.
Restoring the joyful sound of a marriage is not quite as simple as restoring the joyful chimes of a clock – but it’s not impossible. In fact, just opening our ears and really listening to what our partner has to say, rather than always thinking about what we want to say them, will go a long way toward restoring the flow.
Being a good listener is one of the most precious gifts that anyone can ever give another person. It doesn’t mean just sitting without saying a word, and it definitely doesn’t mean talking non-stop. It means being an active listener, who responds appropriately so that the speaker knows that they are truly being heard.
It’s all too easy to tune out the things that are comfortable and familiar to us, particularly when noisy distractions are vying for our attention. Sadly, the One who is "tuned out" most often of all, is the One whose gentle whispers we most need to hear; the One who calls us to listen to His direction and prosper.
It’s interesting that Jesus repeated, on more than one occasion, the words, "He who has ears, let him hear." I can’t help but think that the point needed stressing, because almost since the time man first found the words to express his thoughts, he has been more intent on communicating those ideas than he has been on giving his attention to another – even when that "other" is Almighty God.
As I write this, the sound of my clock is chiming out the news that it is now 4 pm, with 16 beautiful notes and four resonant gongs. The whisper of time has once again been given voice, and at last I have ears that are open to hear its tune – all it needed was an increase in volume to break free of the audio background in which it had been lost.
In complete contrast, when it comes to my relationships with family, friends and God, it’s not about turning up their volume – the problem doesn’t lie with them. Instead, it’s about me being willing to set aside all the busyness of life and silence myself for a time, so that I am able to really hear them clearly with my heart – as they once again, so very graciously, bestow the treasure of their heart upon me.
* * *
"My sheep listen to my voice; I know
them, and they follow me." (John 10:27 NIV)
Debbie Porter has encouraged, inspired and entertained thousands of men and women around the world through her writing since June, 2000. Her greatest desire is to encourage and build up the people of God to believe in their God given potential and to step into everything they were created to be. Deb lives with her husband and two teenagers in Sydney, Australia. You can contact Debbie through the "Your Letters" page of FaithWriters’ Magazine, or by visiting her website at http://www.breathfreshair.org