My church recently held an all-night prayer vigil. Each of us could sign up for a half-hour (or longer) shift. I was lucky enough to get the very decent 9 a.m. shift and arrived in the little chapel ready to have some good time with God.
Scheduled half-hours with God are not normally part of my daily schedule, I’m sad to say. I do wish I were better about scheduling long periods of time with God, but my prayers tend to be more spontaneous. I regularly pray at night before I go to sleep, and those prayers are earnest but I couldn’t tell you how long they were.
This morning was different. With great enthusiasm I came before God with all my praises and petitions and thoughts. . . and then I felt that I had come to the end. I looked at my watch (OK, my phone) and found I still had twenty minutes left.
Twenty minutes to…listen, I guess. Suddenly it seemed like quite a long time.
I’m pretty terrible at listening. And silence. I get bored and impatient, ready for the next thing.
Summer provides some additional space for listening to God. With my boys out of school and preschool for the summer, our schedule is a lot more open. More room for listening to God . . . if I choose to.
Here are three ways I’ve found to help me listen better.
- Pay attention to where you best hear God now.
In his book Discernment Henri Nouwen asks us to pay attention to where we hear God best—whether it’s outdoors or indoors or through books or . . . ? I have given a lot of thought over the past few years to where I hear God’s voice best, and I’ve noticed that, as much of a book lover as I am, I tend to hear God best when I’m out in nature, on a walk or even just in my yard, away from the distractions lurking in my house.
Another place where I often find that I hear God well is in the shower, especially when I’m not rushing to get done and get somewhere else. It’s such a familiar thing to do that I don’t have to think and so my mind is free to listen. It’s also one of the few times of my day in which I don’t have any other distractions—no kids, no music, no book or magazine to glance at.
- Set aside a daily time of reflection.
Although I don’t always feel that I’m hearing God through my sons when I’m in their immediate presence, when I look back I often find the time when I’m with them to be the closest I feel to God. Each night I like to go through a prayer called the Examen, where I think about where I felt closest to God, where I felt furthest from God, and then ask forgiveness for those times when I erred and felt far from God. I find that repeated practice of the Examen has helped me not only to see where God was speaking to me through the day but also to help to hear God’s voice better in the moment.
- Cultivate silence.
This one is the hardest for me, and I would guess that it’s the hardest for many of us.
I recently heard a quote from Thomas Keating, that God’s first language is silence. That struck me, because I think silence is something most of us tend to be pretty terrible at. Our lives have so little of it, and we’re not highly motivated to work hard to create it.
I have written before about Dallas Willard’s comment that we fear silence because it reminds us of our mortality. When it’s quiet there’s nothing but us and God—no distractions, no excuses. And that has not always been easy for me.
It gets easier with practice, though. Turning off the radio or playlist in the car, cooking without the radio or a book (yes, reading is noise too), just sitting in the quiet. All of these things become easier the more you try them. And then it becomes quite the relief to not be bombarded with media, at least for some little slices here and there in the day.
And believe me, I know, with small children, it is not at all easy to carve out those little places of silence, but I strongly believe it is worth the effort.
As a parent, I also find that having more times of silence in my day, trying to listen for God, also helps me to listen better to my children, and not just nod and Um-hmmm along with their long and dramatic retellings of the latest Scooby-Doo book or baseball play.
I’ve noticed that when the noise escalates in the house or the backseat, it’s usually because they both want so much to be heard, really heard. And a little bit of focused attention goes a long way to making that better.
What about you? How do you find silence, time to listen, in your day?