Sometimes, when I am working hard at listening to someone, I hear a comment that could bother me a great deal. The comment often comes after I have spend a considerable amount of time focusing on the person, giving all the necessary feedback to let them know I am listening. I am not faking, I am actually listening and can, when necessary, give them a full replay of the whole session, including both the verbal and non-verbal content of their communication.
As the session progresses and they get more comfortable (a powerful consequence of being listened to), some will eventually utter a comment something like, “I just want someone to listen to me–but nobody listens.” Early in my ministry, I would quickly respond with, “I am listening”. At other stages, I would think to myself, “What do you think I have been doing for the past half-hour?”. These days, I privately enjoy the irony: if I weren’t listening, they would not likely be comfortable enough to complain that nobody listens to them.
Unfortunately, their complaint is an all too accurate and too common one–listening is a skill we all want others to have but don’t always want to practise ourselves. We want to be heard but don’t necessarily want to hear. All of us need to know that there is someone to listen to us–and we all want the listener to be a real person, someone who cares and whose care shows and helps us feel important and valuable and significant. Nothing can take the place of a real live human listener.
Along with that need for a human ear to hear us, we also need a sense that something beyond us is listening. As a Christian, I need to know that God is listening. But because I so used to not being listened to, I sometimes make the assumption that God listens like many of the humans I associate with. Like many people, I have experienced prayer times when I have felt that no one is listening–it feels like God is on vacation or at least on a coffee break.
That can be a devastating and frustrating experience, especially when the prayer is coming from deep inside and dealing with some significant issue. Feeling that God isn’t listening can make someone feel really isolated and insignificant and worthless.
And since God is Spirit and therefore doesn’t give the usual signs of listening: nodding, non-word verbal prompts, appropriate reflection and helpful questions, it is harder to know that God is listening. I am pretty good at telling is someone is actually listening to me or not–but since I can’t see God, I have none of the usual clues that show someone is listening.
The difference I need to remember is that when I deal with God, I am dealing with a qualitatively different situation. I am moving into the faith realm. I can see whether another person is listening to me. I have to believe that God is listening to me. With many people, I can feel whether they are there listening or not–but with God, I need to believe that he hears and is listening.
There are lots of Scripture verses that I could quote and thus prove that God is always listening to me, but the bottom line is that I have to depend on my faith here, not my feelings or my observations. I pray because I believe God is listening. When I feel God isn’t listening, I pray because I believe he is listening. When I don’t observe anything to show he is listening, I pray because I believe he is listening. When I pray and am sure that the prayers bump up against an unlistening and uncaring universe, I continue praying because I believe God is listening. When I pray and pray and get no answer, I still pray because I believe that God is listening.
Even more, I pray because I believe that God does more than listen. I believe that he answers. I might have trouble seeing the answer, but I still pray because God is both listening and answering.
May the peace of God be with you.