I encourage readers of this column to review the story of God’s call to the young man Samuel (1 Samuel 3: 1-20), a story that reveals a message regarding the importance of ‘listening’ to God and to one another. God often can only be heard if we are “still and know” (Psalm 46:10) that it is He who is communicating through various means, even if only in a whisper.
In this story of mistaken communication, Samuel thought his mentor Eli had called him, but Eli realized that the call was from God; therefore, he told Samuel to answer, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3: 9)
Samuel’s story illustrates the important link between hearing God’s voice, deeply listening to His message and then responding to His will, as well as the consequences of not listening to God. Most of us have experienced some of those consequences when we’ve failed to seek God’s direction and guidance.
In her book “Holy Listenin,” Margaret Guenther underscores also the importance of listening to one another. She says, ‘listen’ is such a little, ordinary word that it is easily passed over. She notes the pain of not being listened to, of not being heard. In a way, not to be heard is not to exist.
This can be the plight of the very young and the very old, the very sick, the ‘confused’ and all too frequently, the dying — literally when no one in their lives has time or patience to listen. By way of contrast, the holy listener is reluctant to dismiss another person…he/she makes a willing gift of his/her attentiveness.
I’ll never forget the priceless gifts of presence and listening a team from World Vision gave to Damian, an 8-year-old boy who was dying of AIDS in a hospital in Constanza, Romania. During the early part of our visit, we had played with frenetic, AIDS-infected children in a large room. Later, a Romanian nurse led us to a tiny, darkened room in which Damian, the size of a 3-year-old, quietly lay in an iron crib, isolated and alone. All of us were totally focused on Damian, who squealed weakly with delight as he fingered a translucent keychain of the skyline of Seattle. We smiled and softly spoke to him.
Abandoned by his parents, Damian embraced our visit as a priceless gift which he had not experienced in months. That evening back in our hotel, our team, choked with emotion, debriefed our time spent with Damian. We shared tears and prayers for the children stricken by the ravishing effect of AIDS, as well as voiced our own fears of the disease. (Damien died three months after we returned home).
Fast forwarding to the present, I’ve had many experiences listening to the poignant stories of the poor, physically or mentally diminished and others living the margins of life in many countries. Even as the world would drown out the silent sufferings of others with indifference or with noise, I seek to listen to the One who taught me to love as He does.
Having said that, I find I’m often not “quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19) nor fully present to close friends, family and others in my daily life. If you identify with my shortcomings, pray with me for holy listening skills, knowing that deep listening to God and to other people generates an amazing “gift exchange” and the closest experience some will ever have to feeling loved.
Anita Schamber is an author and owner of Masterful Life Designs.