As a child I remember getting into trouble because I didn’t hear my parents tell me to do something. Now, to be fair there were times that I heard them, but I didn’t want to do what they said and so pretended like I didn’t hear them. Ironically, I have no recollection of ever getting into trouble in one of those instances. However, I do recall being right in my insistence upon not hearing but still getting into trouble. I knew for certain that no one had spoken to me. How could they have? Surely I would have heard them, right?
Well, here I am now with six kids and guess what? My kids don’t “hear” me sometimes. I think to myself, “How is that possible? I was looking you right in the eyeballs!” Now I know that I was wrong – at least some of the time – as a child. My parents were speaking to me and I simply wasn’t listening.
I think it’s the same when it comes to talking with God. I know that saying, “God speaks to me,” makes it sound like we who talk with God have a pathology. Okay, maybe we do, but who doesn’t. Since I can’t know for certain that there is no God and that God does not and never will desire to communicate with us I have to at least be open to the idea that God has tried to speak to me in the past, but I didn’t “hear” God.
There are a variety of reasons why children don’t hear their parents. Often times, as is the case with my own kids, children are fully engrossed in what they are doing. (Maybe this is one of the virtues implied in Jesus saying, “The kingdom belongs to children such as these.”) Some of my kids can repeat back what I said word for word and I still get the impression that they never heard me. Sometimes my kids don’t hear me because they are having a rough day and the noise of their hearts is too loud. They haven’t learned how to listen beyond the hurt, or confusion, or pain, or whatever the emotion is. Sometimes they hear me and then forget to follow through. We all do this at times. We commit to something and then fail to do it. One final reason I think children don’t “hear” their parents is because they don’t want to hear them. When we hear someone then we are required to respond. Responding takes work.
Now let’s be honest. None of us is as good a communicator as we like to think we are. I can remember a few times in my childhood when I heard my parents tell me something, but I had no idea what they were saying. Usually this happened when the message was coming at me at elevated decibels. Anger has a way of clouding our message and it never helps. So, sometimes children don’t hear their parents because their parents are bad communicators.
So back to hearing God. Could it be possible that God has been trying to talk us and we have listened like children? I know in my own life there are times that I am so engrossed in what I am doing (whether in the moment or long-term stuff) that I’m sure I’ve missed God’s voice. God knows I’ve had some bad days in my life and I’m sure that in the midst of my broken heart I didn’t hear God’s voice. I wasn’t accustomed to hearing it so I missed it. Finally, I know I have heard God’s voice and didn’t want to obey so I’ve pretended like I never heard it. I’m not proud of that and those times have never ended well for me.
Still, another possibility remains. Is it possible that God is simply a bad communicator? Couldn’t God do something really big to get our attention if God had something really important to say? I’m sure God could. I’m not quite willing to put the blame on God by labeling God a bad communicator. But I understand if you want to go there. Even if God is a bad communicator that doesn’t mean God isn’t trying to speak to us. Perhaps that is why prayer is best understood as a conversation instead of a monologue. In conversation we can ask clarifying questions, we can seek to understand, and we can seek to be understood.
So, can anyone really be sure that God hasn’t ever tried to speak to them? I don’t think so. I think if we are intellectually honest we have to leave room for the possibility of God trying to speak with us. Perhaps the fault rests with us. Perhaps we need to learn how to hear God. The great prophet Samuel needed Eli to teach him how to listen to God. Maybe we just need some more Eli’s. What do you think? Does God speak to you?
I’m willing to bet that God has a word for you today. See if you can hear it.