In his later years my dad became a bit hard of hearing. He inherited (and passed along) a pattern of hearing loss that allowed him to hear low voices reasonably well but that made it difficult to hear higher-pitched ones. Children’s voices would be drowned out by background buzz.
This turned out to be very handy for him.
(Whisper) “Dad, you want some more coffee?”
“Ya, you bet!”
(Loud voice) “Opa [Grandpa], will you take us to the park?”
(Pleading whine) “Opa, will you go to the park with us, puhleeze?”
(Parental voice oozing with unction) “You’d better let Opa be. He can’t hear you just now. . . .”
According to the writer of Ecclesiastes, it would be the better part of wisdom for all of us to develop some selective deafness: “Do not give heed to everything that people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you” (Eccles. 7:21, NRSV).
The Ecclesiast isn’t advocating wanton disregard for what others say of us. Sometimes we need to pay attention. But we’re reminded that keeping our own public persona untarnished shouldn’t be all that high on our priority list. We so easily elevate our own image into an idol to which we sacrifice our relationships, our own sense of self-worth, and our peace of mind. And what does that idol of a squeaky-clean reputation give us in return?
Nothing but burning ears and a bruised ego.
How can we filter out what we should and should not hear others saying about us? I believe the key is to experience in the depths of our souls how valued and loved we are by our Father in heaven and our Brother Jesus.
If we’re good with God, then we’re good period. If others don’t always recognize that, so what? Let them talk! As disciples of Jesus we can trust our Master to take careful notes and straighten it all out one day. In the meantime let’s not be too quick to take offense.
You cannot, simply cannot, control everything that’s said about you.
Doubt it? The Preacher holds up the mirror to each one of us before he rests his case: “Your heart knows that many times you have yourself cursed others” (v. 22).
Go ahead and say it ain’t so. Your own heart will call you a liar.
In Christ we can be holy shock absorbers—taking blows to our pride with grace, forgiveness, and humility without handing them back or passing them on to others.
Selective deafness takes humility. But true humility is not thinking less of yourself. On the contrary, it rests on a healthy self-image, knowing that you’re valuable and worthy enough as a person to be someone for whom Christ died and rose again.
Newer car safety features provide us with a good, if unintended, exercise in heeding the Ecclesiast’s call to that kind of humility. Every time you start it, your very own set of wheels insults you. Turn over the key and it lights up a sign that says “Airbag.” When it winks at you, oh precious child of God, glance at yourself in the rearview mirror. I hope you see someone smiling!