“Part of doing something is listening. We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.” ~Madeleine L’Engle, Swiftly Tilting Planet
As the mother of two very talkative sons, sometimes I don’t quite listen. Several years ago they were very, very interested in Star Wars. It was the only thing they talked about at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And being stuck in the van with them meant being captive to their incessant light saber, hero, super-powers talking. Finally, I told them I would not listen to it anymore.
The thing is. . . I hadn’t been listening for a long time already. I had tuned out what they were saying because I didn’t want to hear it. I wasn’t interested in what they were discussing. I had more important things to deal with. I couldn’t be bothered.
Somehow that attitude transferred itself to other areas of my life. I half listened to friends while I thought about what I needed to be doing next. I “mm hm-ed” on the phone as I washed dishes and wished the speaker would hurry it up. I planned dinner while the kids told me the latest news, worked on plot twists while Matt unwound by telling me his own stories, and typed out a blog while my mother talked on the speaker phone.
So a few weeks ago, I decided it was time for me to start listening. People all around me have things to share, and I can be the ear they need to listen. I had no idea where I was about to be lead.
A few days into the “listening experiment” I asked God if he could help me to slow down and be an ear to someone who needed it that day. Then I headed into my busy day- drop Amos off at the orthodontist, stop by the dump to get rid of the recycling, head to the grocers, check at the pet store to see how my book is selling, and then back to get Amos. Forty-five minutes? No problem!
I dropped Amos off, stopped by the pet store- the owner was in a meeting, so I said I would come back- and then headed to the dump. On the way there I had to slam on the brakes, and recycling with a lidless kefir container in it went spilling all over the back of the van. I cleaned it up as best I could and thought I would stop in the restroom to wash at the grocery.
A shopping cart with a small girl, perhaps two years old, was parked in front of one of the stalls. I used the other and then went to wash up. A woman appeared out of the other stall and as the child cried, the mother exclaimed, “I just don’t get it! What do you think?” I looked over, and she held a positive pregnancy test. She went on to tell me that she had had an ultrasound that morning and was told the baby had died. The doctor prescribed a medication to help her get rid of the fetus, but she was afraid to hurt the baby if a mistake had been made. What did I think she should do?
Really, God? I stayed with her a while, listened, offered my advice, and prayed for her. Then I headed off to the pet store again.
There I discovered that the owner’s husband had had a heart attack and died the week before, her aunt had also died that week, and her son’s pet had died that morning. OK, God, I get it.
I realize that people are hurting around us all of the time. The woman in the stall next to you. The cashier at the pet store. People everywhere need a listening ear. But busyness and lack of interest turn down the volume so that we don’t have to hear what everyone else needs to say.
And then Matt preached it on Sunday. God wants to speak to us, but are we listening? Well of course I’m listening! I mean who wouldn’t want to hear God, right!?
Only maybe I am listening like I used to be listening, not noticing the woman next to me crying over the loss of a wanted child, not hearing the pain and fatigue in another’s voice who is struggling with loss. What if I am ignoring God because what he has to say isn’t easy to listen to or I don’t particularly want to hear what he has to say?
So now I add to my prayer, God let me be an ear to those who need to talk AND let me have ears to hear you, no matter what you have to say, — even if I have to listen to Star Wars.