My very first memory of needing to see someone speak in order to hear them comes from my early childhood, during Sunday School at the church where my mother sent us to worship. I say “sent us”, as Mom rarely would go to church with my older sister and me. Most Sunday mornings we were primped and polished, dressed in our Sunday best, buckled into our patent leather shoes, and sent on our way for the walk to the church, just the two of us. My sister always made sure I got to my Sunday School room, she looked out for me, though sometimes I would cling to her and not want to go in, never realizing, fully, the reason for my reluctance until years later.
Each week, at the end of our Sunday School lesson, the teacher would lead us in prayer, instructing “Every head bowed, every eye closed.” I would bow my head and close my eyes, attempting obedience, but once the prayer began I would instinctively look up to see the words on the lips of my teacher. If, during the prayer, my gaze was met by Mrs. M’s opened eyes looking back at me, her harsh glare of displeasure was enough to send my head downward and clench shut my eyelids so tight for the prayer to take. I was then left feeling like I had done something so wrong and that God would not hear the prayer of such a defiant child.
It wasn’t until adulthood that I was able to recall this memory, and with it came the realization that I could not hear at an even earlier age, even younger than when I flunked the hearing test in grade school. Ironically, the realization that God did not share in my Sunday School teacher’s quick and errant judgment came much sooner from an incident at the very same church. At the tender age of eight, I stomped home after having been turned away from the summer Vacation Bible School because I was dressed in baggy shorts instead of the required culottes. I knew then that “little old me” knew more about God’s love than those adults at the church in town. My God, the One I know, would have taken my chin in His hand, lifted my face to the heavens, and welcomed my prayer offered with opened eyes. My God didn’t care that I wasn’t compliant with one particular church’s dress code. God really isn’t as picky as everyone makes Him out to be.
Had my Sunday School teacher called me on my defiance, I would have not been able to explain the why of my watching her pray, as I did not know myself, at that point, the reason for my disobedience. Was my Sunday School teacher a bad person, someone who was mean-spirited, judgmental, harsh, or intolerant? No, I knew Mrs. M all through my childhood and teenage years and she was a very nice lady. Her only offense was in making a wrong assumption. Much the same as the many people I have met throughout my lifetime who lack the sensitivity needed to recognize when someone is different. Most often those assuming individuals would be, and are, mortified by their quick judgments and wrong assumptions once they are made aware of them, as they should be. But that fact doesn’t excuse one’s laziness in looking for the true reason for another’s behavior.
Due to my lack of hearing, I have been accused of purposely ignoring, being stuck up, and rude, none of which is true. However, once I explain to whomever I have offended that I can’t hear, they are most always mortified. I do little to stroke their ego once it is wounded, as I believe insensitivity warrants the reflection that mortification can bring. I allow them their feelings, not out of any warped sense of vengeance, but in the hope that the experience teaches them to not be so hasty when they are next presented with a situation that requires them to be more thoughtful about a person’s behavior.
Thank God for those who look for the deeper meaning in things. Those who are not quick to judge, those who do not jump to easy conclusions, and those who resist making assumptions. I would like to think I am among them, as I try to be sensitive, but the reality is that every one of us falls short at one time or another. But the good news is, there are more people who are as clued-in than clueless. However, we can all take pause and reflect on how sensitive we are, and look for what one’s behavior might be an indication of. Let’s all give the sensitivity that we want in return, and let that sensitivity extend beyond hearing issues.