The husband was more than angry. A tell-tale vein on his forehead was visibly throbbing with frustration. “You weren’t listening to me,” he blustered towards his wife. “I just told you of my needs, and how dare you say No to my requests. Why won’t you listen to me?”
The exchange was difficult on a number of levels. It is always sad to observe a couple struggling in their relationship, but perhaps especially when the conflict represents not so much an inability but an unwillingness to hear one another. Sadly, in this case, the one who really was not listening was the husband. His problem was in fact two-fold. First, he was unwilling to accept his wife’s quite appropriate boundaries which she was trying to maintain for herself. But secondly and just as challenging was his inability to understand that his wife’s refusal to submit to his selfish demands did not mean she was not listening to him. She could hardly ignore his broken-record behavior and loudly bellowed demands for her subservience to his expectations. Rather, his guilt-insinuating complaint to his wife that she “wasn’t listening” to him really translated, “You won’t let me have my way.”
I find it curious how much more prevalent is this type of accusation in our age of entitlement. Of course, part of the very nature of sin is that it loves to hide behind the accusation of blame towards some other—the tendency goes back to the Garden where Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent for their trespass. Still, the unwillingness to accept the appropriately given “No” of either another person or of the community seems to be epidemic in our day. Perhaps it is because it is so relatively easy to demean the character and integrity of others without fear of reprisal. Or perhaps it is because it is so easy to rally enough other grumpy, disaffected people around one’s complaint as to foster the illusion of being justified in one’s behavior. I love the old story of the man rescued after years of being marooned on a tropical island. The man was explaining to his rescuers why there were three little thatched huts on the island. One, he noted, was his home, and one was his church. When asked about the third, the marooned man scoffed derisively and said, “Oh, that’s where I used to go to church.”
When I was the ripe old age of twenty, I ran for political office and bottomed out at the polls. While busy complaining that the public had not listened to my arguments for change, an older and much wiser friend suggested that perhaps the community had in fact listened quite carefully to me and then with much sounder insight, simply said “No” to my platform.
If the others “aren’t listening to me,” if we don’t get our way and if the universe is not unfolding in a way to suit us, how quickly we decide it’s permissible to pack up and leave marriage, work, organization or community, rather than look at ourselves and consider whether we might be the one who needs deep surgery and redemption in our attitudes, behaviors and most of all, in our soul. But of course, it is so much more comforting to believe that everyone else is to blame.