“I’m really good at talking with adults,” I announced, proud of a recent heart-to-heart I’d had with a history teacher over a borderline grade.
“Talking with or talking to?” my dad quizzed, his half-smile skeptical, but patient.
Great. Apparently, this was going to be one of those teachable moments. Considering the implications of Dad’s question, I didn’t answer immediately, indignation welling.
He continued, “It’s not the same thing, you know. Maybe the adults you talk to are just good listeners.” Knowing just how far to push me and at what pace so that I wouldn’t tune him out, he paused and worked his mouth a bit, choosing his next words carefully. “No doubt, they know a lot about you and what you think and feel, but what do you know about them and what they think, how they feel?”
Blushing a little, I considered. Not much. I felt silly. How many of my adult friends really weren’t? How many simply tolerated and indulged me to make me feel good about myself the same way I tolerated and indulged the kids I babysat?
Sensing the need to cushion my fragile teenage-girl ego with a compliment, Dad threw me a bone. “You do a really good job of expressing yourself, Angela.” Then he brought it home. “But that doesn’t make you a good communicator. You have to learn to ask good questions, give them a chance to respond, and then really listen. That’s how you talk with someone.”
The arrow hit its mark, and learning how to communicate well became a top priority in my life, learning not only to listen, but to hear, as well as express my own thoughts as clearly as possible. I don’t consider myself an accomplished conversationalist by any stretch, but I do pay attention.
My prayer life? Well, that’s another story. Taking the command to “pray without ceasing” seriously, I’m always talking to God. I just don’t always talk with Him.
When I was younger, I didn’t really know how. Following the lead of others, I relied heavily on gut feelings and perceived ‘open doors,’ too spiritually immature at that time to realize that the Enemy opens doors, too. Sometimes, I did the right thing, but looking back, I think my coming safely through some of the rough waters that I navigated had more to do with the faithful prayers of more mature Christians than any real spiritual discernment on my part. Fancying myself a seasoned sailor worth imitating, I was, in reality, a child at sea, my prayer life no more than a plastic compass, its stickered arrow always reading North.
I was a youth minister’s wife preparing lessons on prayer before I even realized that my prayer life was lacking. Feeling silly, I realized that, while I belonged to God, saw His hand at work in my life, and felt His presence, I didn’t really know Him that well.
I wanted to, though—needed to—if I hoped to lead others well.
So, applying a very practical lesson from my father to spiritual matters, I started listening, not feeling or watching, but listening. That still, small voice people talk about? I heard it. Not audibly, although that would be really cool, and I hope I get the chance to experience that someday, but my heart felt the echo of God’s voice much the same way I imagine a deaf person experiences music.
It happened when I read my Bible.
Of course, when I read my Bible just to say I did, nothing really ever came of it. I’d forget most of what I read unless the passage happened to be one of the dozens I knew by heart after a lifetime of Sunday school, youth group, and Sunday sermons. Those passages I remembered easily, but what I took away from them really didn’t make any more of an impact on me than Cliff’s notes make on those with no real interest in the actual book. In fact, there were times I could almost see where those who had never actually surrendered their lives to Christ could dismiss the Bible as ancient and irrelevant, their not having the Holy Spirit in their hearts to testify to its truth.
But, you see, I had surrendered my heart to Christ. I did have the Holy Spirit in my heart to testify, so when I read my Bible to listen for God’s voice, I heard Him. Sometimes, it took considerable effort. Often, it took considerable time. But I found that when I shut out all distractions and preconceived notions of what I expected to gain and read instead just to know and understand God better, to talk with Him, giving Him permission to wound or encourage as He saw fit, the truth of His Word resonated with His Holy Spirit in my heart, and I was filled with a peace so real and pervasive that obedience and submission to His will seemed a small price to pay for continued intimacy and unhindered communication with Him.
Man, it was cool!
Still is, and I wish I could say that I always approach Bible study this way, but I can’t. Like anyone else, I get busy, distracted, preoccupied, and a little too confident in what I know and can do on my own. Exchanging, like a fool, the peace and clarity that are mine for the taking as a child of God for the haze and ambiguity of half-hearted pursuit, I go through the motions of Bible study. Praying, but not seeking. Reading, but not listening.
I’m a goof.
Thankfully, God is more faithful than I. Fully committed to finishing what He started in me a long time ago, He continues to shape me, using Scripture I learned in those more astute moments to get my attention, call me home, and correct me when I doze off or wander away. I won’t pretend it’s always a pretty process—His Sword is sharp, after all—but, in the end, I’m always grateful for His persistence. Patient and loving, my Father always speaks truth to me, and there is no thrill on earth quite so exquisite as authentic, unhindered communion with Him.