Listening to God

For the past few weeks, Adult Faith Formation has been exploring how we can faithfully practice spiritual disciplines. The term refers to those intentional practices, experiences, and relationships that help us connect to God. We’ve tackled the disciplines of fasting, praying, and listening to God. Next up will be embracing simplicity and unplugging.

Fasting has been a tough one for me – no candy, cookies, or pop. When my grandson asked me how things were going, I said, “Okay, except that I’m cranky and have no energy.” Talking about praying with the folks in our Sunday class was lovely . . . we dove into the Scriptures to figure out the purpose of prayer, and how prayer can move us from our personal concerns to the needs of others.

As I prepared the lesson about listening to God, I felt that gnawing anxiety that pops up inside me because I have never actually “heard” the voice of Jesus speak to me in the way some of my Christian friends have. I’ve always felt His presence in my life through scripture, sermons, music, and natural wonders. Standing at the precipice of Niagara Falls for the first time was one of those “Aha!” moments for me. Some of the invitations to listen are among my favorites: “Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10.

But, I wasn’t sure if I ever received a clear message from God about important decisions in my life. Was I leaning on my faith and trust that He was with me, or was I just following my own intuition?

Looking back, I believe that I was led to the vocation of teaching, specifically working with struggling students, children who learn and behave differently than their peers. Here is where the discipline of listening entered my world. I began to lose my hearing when I was in my twenties. My mother came for coffee one afternoon after we’d had our third son. This was before the days of baby monitors, Pack-and-Play, or wearing your baby while he/she napped. Tommy was upstairs in his crib. My mother looked at me and asked, “Don’t you hear the baby crying?” I was mortified; how many times had I missed his cries for comfort because I didn’t hear him? So began a quest for information and treatment of my own silent disability. I had surgery, tried different hearing devices, and learned how to speech read.

But God continued to point me in the direction of working with children and young adults with disabilities. When I was Director of the Pre-school at our church in Bethlehem, a young mother approached me and asked if we would let her profoundly challenged little boy come to our school. He was not ambulatory or verbal, but our church was quite accessible, even though it was the early 1980’s. After many meetings with my staff of 12 teachers, the nursery school board, our pastoral staff, and the church attorney, we told the parents that we were not comfortable accepting their child since we were not special educators. She wrote an impassioned letter asking us to consider him “other-abled” and giving detailed and practical suggestions of how we might welcome him as part of our program. The school held firm. Shortly after that, our family left Bethlehem and moved to Western New York. But the young mother’s letter stayed in my heart. God had planted a seed. “He who has ears, let him hear.” Matthew 11:15. I began a graduate program in Infancy/Preschool Special Education at SUNY Buffalo, which I continued when we moved to Valpo.

Just as Jesus often had a clear sense of guidance from God, we must be listening for the messages that come to us in so many ways: dreams, visions, nature, world events, relationships with family and friends, situations at work … the list is endless. God is everywhere and reminds us that we must be “…quick to listen and slow to speak.” James 1:19.

May you find places to practice listening to God – remembering that we might hear His voice through anyone or anything.

Blessings to you all.

Sharon

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