It was an ordinary moment on vacation in Key West. We were just hanging around at the beach. My dad is an introvert. So when he started to share a story from his early years of being married to my mom, working hard, and going through college, we all tuned in. With each detail, my children were absorbed in his story. They asked questions. They wanted to know more. I sat back to listen and watch. It’s was a story I hadn’t heard before.
I listened and watched how my children were hanging on to every last word. I sat back and thought about how this is one of those moments of a grandparent sharing part of their history that my children won’t forget. I thought about how this story is part of my own story, and that of my children. It’s the courageous story – one of deep devotion – that created the reality of where we are today as a family.
I love listening to my dad. There’s a softness to him. There’s a tenderness. And I find that I want to hear more. My parents are aging, and I want to hear the stories that only they know that I haven’t heard yet.
I want to hear their stories.
I want to know more about them.
I want to linger and pass time just listening and learning more about the nuances of who my parents are.
Because even up until a few years ago, I was too busy — too absorbed — in my own life to really to have the space to hear these stories. I feel a bit guilty about that. But I can also have compassion for myself. I had tough pregnancies. We had moved to a new town. We were trying to find our ground as new parents. But now in my mid-forties, I have space. Brian and I have been intentional about creating that space — making big decisions about careers that have enabled us to live in a simpler way that is based on what is most sacred to us.
And so I sat there, listening to my dad. His story changed me. I realized that I had put my dad into a box. I thought I had him all figured out.
We do that with our dear ones. We think we know our parents because we’ve known them all our lives. We think we know our spouses because we’ve shared many intimate experiences with them. We think we know our children because we birthed them.
That familiarity can often lead us to put our closest dear ones into a box. And that can lead to judging them.
But then some grace-filled moment – like sitting and hearing a parent’s story – opens our ears and hearts. We hear about a struggle our loved one went through that we didn’t know about. We hear about a courageous choice our dear one made that determined the path they went down that we had no idea about. We hear about the details of how devoted they were to something bigger than their own selves.
And we see how we’ve had them in a box — that “I’ve got you all figured out” box. And suddenly, your image of them leaps out of that box. Your heart expands. You open — with tenderness and compassion — in a new way. You see your dear one with new eyes and a more tender heart.
I could literally feel my heart expanding and my love for my dad growing as I listened to him tell his story.
When we slow down to hear a loved one’s stories, we just might hear something we hadn’t heard before. We might see their humanness, courage, struggles, and true character. And any judgment we had of them, any box we had put them in, dissolves. These grace-filled moments remind us that we are on holy ground. They remind us that we all struggle sometimes and we all want to belong, to be loved, and to love. They soften our hearts. And because of these moments of listening, we now look at our people with softer, kinder eyes. We are more tender with one another.
The next time your son or daughter wants to tell you a story…
The next time your mom or dad wants to tell you a story…
…try pausing and listening for a detail you hadn’t heard before.
Try pausing and seeing them as if you did not know them and bring an awe-filled curiosity to get to know them.
Try pausing and hearing the courage, the struggle, and the love in their story.
Try pausing and letting their story open you to a new way of regarding and loving your dear one.
Because pausing to hear their story, we see our dear one as a mystery — always a mystery — to approach with awe, reverence, and tenderness.