From time to time I find it helpful to stop what I am doing and listen.
I mean really listen. My family has learned to recognize when I am no longer hearing what they are saying to me. I am completely honest when this happens and no longer feel guilty when I say to my spouse or child, “You know, I’m just not listening to you anymore.” We know that any further attempts to convey information should be saved for a time when we can both be more focused on each other. There are rarely hard feelings. We have learned to ask, “Do you have time to listen right now?”
There are times in my ministry, too, when I am distracted and fail to pay attention. It may be in a meeting that has gotten sidetracked or a conversation with someone who finds it necessary to say the same thing five different ways. Or it may be a student who arrives a little too early, interrupting my preparations for an activity. In these cases, it is a little more difficult to be as honest as I’d like to be. My pastor may not appreciate my telling him I’m just not paying attention to what he has to say. It sometimes requires a great deal of effort to be an effective listener.
Lately I have been finding it a challenge to listen to the Spirit, and no matter how hard I try, I’m just not interested in what the Spirit has to say to me. I pray God is as understanding as my family and will wait patiently for me to be ready to listen. I wonder if it is me or God. Why am I so distracted? What is required to really listen to the voice of God? Does God just not have anything to say to me right now? Or am I too far away (emotionally or spiritually) to hear God? Nothing “speaks” to me right now. I continue all my regular prayer habits and try a few new ones. Liturgy is empty. Daily Scripture readings are repetitive and dry. Spiritual reading doesn’t hold my attention. Online meditations don’t either. I have nothing to write in my journal. This frightens me. Am I losing my faith?
In my head, I still believe God is near and knows what I am going through. I persevere and pick up something new to read. I blankly stare at the daily Mass readings. I reread Week 10 of my online Ignatian retreat, even though I’ve been on Week 10 for three weeks now. I read the seventh Harry Potter book again, instead. Maybe God will reveal some new spiritual insight to me through the Deathly Hallows. I think about the activities on my calendar lately, the people I have encountered, new experiences, conversations, people who have been on my mind lately. I pay attention to the people I live with.
Like Elijah, I finally discover God speaking in the silence. He says what He always says: “I have called you. You are mine.” I am ready to listen.
Practice Listening with an exercise by Vinita Hampton Wright.
This article is by Kathy Olenik Henry and was originally written in 2011. Now an Educational Consultant at Loyola Press, Kathy has been involved in the faith formation of children and adults for 20 years. She holds a Masters in Religious Education from Loyola University, New Orleans, and has served as a catechist, DRE, youth minister, and retreat director. She lives in Ohio with her husband and five sons.