We are told repeatedly in scripture that the most important thing in life, even more important than having bread to eat, is the word of God. Thankfully, we don’t have to go anywhere to find this treasure. I remind myself of Romans: “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” God’s word is already within. All we have to do is listen.
Unfortunately, we don’t do a very good job of listening. When things are going well, for instance, we tend to assume that everything we have, own, and accomplish is because of our own efforts and toil, and we can feel entitled to it – as if our lives and possessions are deservedly ours. We can feel less engaged and more distant from the suffering and pain of the world, even as we are grateful it is not happening to us. In those times, we may not even hear the words of temptation that are constantly playing out in our minds and hearts. After all, when we aren’t listening well to God, we don’t recognize voices that are not of God either, and the lures of wealth, power, control, and exclusion are strong.
When bad things happen, when we struggle, are tired, or feel weak, we turn to God and cry out in pain. Yet ironically, our suffering can also block our ability to hear God’s word. To use the analogy that C.S. Lewis wrote in “A Grief Observed”, we become like drowning persons who, when lifeguards arrive, are so frantic that our flailing and fear can drag our rescuers under with us. As Lewis says, “Even divine omnipotence can’t give if we are unable or unwilling to receive.” Then, because we are deaf to the help God offers, we not only hear temptation but are even more vulnerable to it, grasping at supposed “lifelines” that promise to offer relief.
The only antidote is constant attention to God’s word, no matter the circumstances of life. While most of us can ill afford to go on retreat for 40 days as Jesus did, we can create mini-retreats in daily life. In order to do so, we need to offer God something better than the leftover time of the day, when perhaps we’re too tired to do something else. We need to offer the “first fruits” – times of energy, concentration and focus. I try to start each day with prayer. I first humbly and gratefully recognize that all I have, all I own, and all I am is God living within me. Then I focus on the truth that my very breath is the breath of God, my prayer is God within me praying to God universal, and the deepest desires written in my heart are God’s will for me. My suffering and pain is one with the suffering and pain of all God’s children and of Godself, and my groans are the birth pangs of a greater “kingdom”, one that is not of this world. I allow God to see me and love me as I am, and I ask for ears that hear, eyes that see, and the courage to follow.
Without persistent, daily prayer time, I so easily lose sight of all this and get caught up in the world’s word instead of God’s. I become disconnected from myself, feeling strung out, worried, fearful, and reluctant to speak out or use my gifts. I am tempted to withdraw and just cocoon in my own safe world. I lose sight of what is truly important.
But I’ve learned that the best time to deepen a practice of listening is today, right now, in these circumstances. Don’t wait for a better time or an optimal time. Do whatever is necessary to make it happen. Just as I never go out of the house in the morning without setting aside enough time to brush my teeth, get dressed, and be prepared for wherever I’m going, I try to not go into the day without setting aside time to sit in the presence of God and listen. Then I listen throughout the day. I try to stay connected to the God in whom we live and move and have our being. I look for the true rescuer who will never abandon me and will always give me everything I need. It’s hard! I fail way more often than I like to admit. Sometimes I am tempted to despair that I will ever be as faithful as I’d like to be. But I keep at it, sometimes starting over every day, every hour.
What about you? Can we join together to change, starting now? Can we better practice listening to the Word of God instead of the word of the world? If we can do that, perhaps we can also work together to bring that Word to life for the salvation of the world.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.corgenius.com/.