There are moments where everything changes, because you can hear so clearly. I remember in my exuberant teen piety, I would pray time and time again, “Lord, I give you everything I am. I am fully Yours.” I would burn my ‘secular’ music in bonfires, and anything else that I felt separated me from God. I went on a mission trip to South America where I came face to face with real poverty, and it turned my world upside-down. I returned to the states with a flipped worldview: I couldn’t go back to the way things were. A couple of months later I was helping to lead a youth lock-in at my church, and with little sleep the night before, apparently I thought I was okay to drive home (a 45 minute drive). I say “apparently,” because I don’t remember getting in my car, let alone driving out of town. The next thing that I remember is waking up in a hospital room with a doctor standing over me, asking my name and the day. I had been in a head-on collision on the highway. I fell asleep at the wheel. The other guy was okay, but I totaled his truck, as well as my car. I was borderline to slipping into a coma, and had a gnarly head wound from where the doctors had to sew me up, because my head hit my pre-airbag steering wheel. Looking around the room, all my senses hurt. As people left the hospital room, I was left by myself to rest. After a few minutes, I remembering closing my eyes and in the stillness, with hospital sounds in the background, I heard a voice, on the other side of those prayers that I prayed so many times, speak back.
Through a past of (time and time again) ‘choosing’ God (as best I could), in that moment I heard the Lord’s voice telling me in my vulnerability and weakness, that He chose me. That I was simply still alive because He loved me. The quiet in that situation was the soil that the Lord planted something significant in my heart. Memories and desperation met God’s grace, and my ears were able to hear what God wanted to get through to me.
That moment was so significant, that it has become a monument, a landmark, to which I’ve looked back at since to say: “The Lord will not leave, or forsake me, no matter how dark it gets. On my good days, or bad days, in my sin and brokenness, in my unfaithfulness, He is faithful, and He is stronger in choosing me than my attempts at choosing Him.”
Learning to Listen
Though I tend toward introspection and contemplation, I find that once quiet is robbed, it’s hard to hear. Life is so noisy, but I’m learning that if I pray for my ears to to be open, I’m able to hear the Lord’s voice in the quiet, and experience His presence in the most unlikely places. I’m learning to rest in the chaos, and learning to quiet my mind in the craziness of life. Frederick Buechner reminds me that the extraordinary is always close; sometimes it’s hidden, and sometimes it involves waiting, but it is crouching, ready to spring on you, through the mundane, tragedies, punchlines, and ironies of life. Buechner wrote in his book Now and Then:
Listen to your life.
All moments are key moments.
…Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly. . . . If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace (Buechner, 1991).
I’m learning to listen to life again, and again, because once it came so naturally. Once it was so easy to see redemption in the spring, and the fall would even remind me that death could be beautiful…because it wasn’t the end. It’s not the end.
So, sometimes the new mercy is the alarm clock of your one year-old giving you a 5:59 a.m. hug, or your 4 year-old talking about peace as it translates from her princess, fairy tale world to the world where happy endings are hard to find. Let peace reign, little one: He’ll give it. Not like the world gives it. Don’t be afraid.
Things I’ve learned in my Listening 101:
- In the quiet, my ears are able to hear. You can’t listen if you’re always talking…or for that matter, if you’re always filling your life with noise. Even if we are reading Scripture, if we don’t quiet ourselves (and keep ourselves from rushing to the next thing) we run the risk of not hearing the Word -as it has been, or is being, fleshed out in our lives. Intentionally cultivating quiet is the starting point, whether that means commuting with no radio or music, or committing to finding the quiet space, I’ve found that quiet must be intentional and sometimes means sacrifice and self-denial in our overly-sensitizing mass (social) media culture.
- Remembering. Remembering how the Lord has come through in the past. Remembering the mountain tops and dark nights of the soul where you heard clearly, because you were disarmed enough, vulnerable enough, and desperate enough. Those clear hearings are a gift: grace.
- Knowing that there’s always redemption around the corner. Life gets hard. There are seasons where we need to push through, but the glorious Gospel of it all is that God comes through on His promises, He answers prayers, and I believe He delights in showing us His delight – if we seek Him and His kingdom first. In my song, “Telling Truths,” I wrote a lyric that’s been going through my head quite a bit lately: “…this story that’s unfolding, is penned by a lover Who writes redemption into every tale.”
Listening is the lifeblood of creativity. Albert Einstein has been credited as saying, “The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.” I believe that when there is no posture of listening, there is nothing to say -or at least worth saying.
Here is a musical meditation on Mr. Buechner’s words:
By Joel Bidderman
It’s a world of miracles and mysteries
Of deep darkness and starlight majesty
And oh the chaos pulling me close
Into the current of hope
Grace pulsing in the deep
With my best prayers guiding these calloused feet
Listen to your life
The laughter and the tears
Read the storyline
In the minutes and the years
Listen to your life
Through the noises and silences
All moments are key, oh they are grace…listen
Every breath counts and no days are a waste
The leaky faucets and the Milky Way
And the rainy days remind me that you are here
With the water washing tomorrow near
Peace fighting against the storm
With love conquering fear’s war
The clock ticking the sun away
I know some thoughts will leave and some thoughts will stay
The day dissolves with my cup of tea
While my mind plays in the pantry of eternity
(c) 2015 Joel A Bidderman