My son Henry doesn’t listen. He’s a great kid. Totally adorable in every way. Freckles for miles. Big smile. The charm and charisma of a future world leader, I would say. If world leaders don’t really need to listen all that much, that is.
Case in point: I asked Henry to go wash his hands for lunch. Henry got up, grabbed his shoes, and took them into the laundry room. There, he stood for a minute and then gently placed the shoes on the floor, almost reverently. I watched all this from my counter that I lean on to gather strength, when I am waiting to repeat myself to one of my boys. He then walked into the kitchen and made a beeline for a large bowl of blueberries, and that is when I pounced:
“FREEZE!” I barked, and his hand quivered above the blueberries. He was confused because blueberries are a Healthy Snack, so this was odd. Also, he knows blueberries cost about fifty dollars a pint. I am fond of telling him this because he will eat an entire bowl in one sitting. In Henry’s world, if you spot blueberries, you eat them fast, before fruit sends us into debt and we can’t buy any more. Anyhow, he froze, like a fruit-starved deer in the headlights, and then I messed up.
“Henry, honey, what did I just ask you to do?”
Now, this was foolishness. First of all, this was a question with no answer. Henry knew what he just did, but he had no clue what he was told to do because he wasn’t really listening. And so we would end up, very soon, in a circular conversation that neither of us like. Second, I am just so tired.
Me: Henry. No blueberries yet. What did I ask you to do, just a minute ago?
Henry: One? One blueberry?
Me: NO. WHAT DID I ASK YOU TO DO?
Henry: *Looking toward the laundry room in hopes that it will miraculously speak for him.
Me: It has to do with . . . food.
Henry: With blueberries? They look delicious.
Me: Yes, and other food? And *desperate now* WHAT DO YOU DO BEFORE LUNCH?
Henry: We eat appetizers! Like BLUEBERRIES! Also, I put my swimsuit in the laundry room.
Me: No, you didn— *Shakes head. Vows not to get sidetracked* What do we do before lunch so that our HANDS ARE CLEAN?
Henry: Do blueberries float?
This whole conversation actually continued for a few more minutes. To sum up, my child has a listening problem. I really have to wonder if God ever feels this way about us.
I took my kids to the pool the other day, and I saw a momma there whom I know only a little. She is friendly and kind. She has a lot of tattoos, uses a lot of language that I can’t keep up with, and I never can seem to get the courage to talk to her much. She seems to be always mired in some sort of problem or drama. I have wondered if I should just get the guts to ask her to church because, in my humble experience, church helps with the drama. But I don’t ever ask.
I have not asked her to church because she is too Other for me. I have a whole list of reasons why the Otherness is there, and I rattle them off to God and go on about my business.
But at the pool the other day, I think God leaned down and said, “FREEZE.”
I needed to listen. I fear the listening part because God doesn’t audibly talk to me, so I might get it wrong. Which is kind of like saying, “I fear reading books because I might not understand them.” What I really fear is that listening will result in discomfort. I sometimes think God has the personality of one of those reality-TV hosts—the ones that are all superior and, “Gotcha! We’re going to ask you to do something really terrifying because it’s great for ratings! Now, go eat a bug!” God doesn’t go for the shock factor, though. He’s not going to corner me, pin a mic to my shirt, and say, “Go over there and pray for her soul! Do it, right now! Or you’re off the show!”
As I was sat in the concession area at the pool, I watched her, my Other mom-friend, and I was quiet. I was able to listen. This was partially because I finally caught a clue as to what God was doing. He talks, and this time I needed to just clam up and listen. That kind of thing. But mainly? I was exhausted. I was at the end of a day of parenting and sun and boys, and tiredness will take the talk right out of you. I think this is why praying first thing in the morning and right before bed can be so powerful for me. I feel God’s presence at these times, in essence because I’m just too brain-dead to fuzz up the airwaves with my own chatter.
God didn’t pounce. He asked me to go up to her. He didn’t tell me to ask her to church. He didn’t even suggest that I add her to my prayer list. He just said, very quietly, “Who is she, Dana? What’s her story?
Listening can be a sort of zoning-out, to be honest. Some will call this meditation. I call it the sleepy-eyed look my children have given me while I offer a kind word or a tiny bit of advice right before they zonk out. Somehow this communication seems to sink in a lot better than a full lecture at lunch. They might look like they’re nodding off, but I’m still getting in there somehow.
Anyhow, sitting by the pool on those uncomfortable plastic chairs that mold themselves to the backs of your thighs, I just took a deep breath and wondered about it all. The Other mom was chattering away with her friend, and for once, I didn’t allow the tattoos or her discussion of the boyfriend’s drama to distract me. I just wondered about who she was. That was God talking. And I was listening.
God didn’t pounce. He asked me to go up to her. He didn’t tell me to ask her to church. He didn’t even suggest that I add her to my prayer list. He just said, very quietly, “Who is she, Dana? What’s her story? You should find out the whole deal, someday. She’s worth knowing. And, thank you so much for listening.”
Henry has a listening issue because he has a lot going on in his brain. And, granted, I have a speaking issue too because I so often communicate with him after the fact. Most effective communication is proactive, and I think just about every parenting book in the world has told me that. If only I would listen.
I don’t think God barks at us, chastising us about our inability to put down our own ideas and wash off our thinking. He’s not really into using all-caps. (Although sometimes I think that might be kind of cool. Can you imagine? God just gets really fed up one day and writes in the clouds: SERIOUSLY, WILL YOU PLEASE TRY TO BE NICER TO EACH OTHER. READ MY BOOK.) But God is more proactive than that. He gave us the Bible, for one, which is written instructions for daily living. We’re not just supposed to use it in case of emergency, or after the chaos. And, he asks us to be still.
When I really want Henry to listen, I stop, bend down, and look in his eyes. Nearly every time I do this, he starts to fold himself into my body, like a small, warm puzzle piece wanting to fit into the curve of my tummy and arms. We hug, and I smell his hair and kiss it. He rests his cheek on mine. And he listens.
This is what it is like to listen to our Father. What a blessing that he really wants to talk with us. And hold us. And kiss our cheek. What a blessing it is to get to listen to all that love.