I tune things out. Tim alerted me to this one day a few years ago at my parents' house. I was having a nice conversation when Tim interrupted, "Do you realize two of your sisters are trying to talk to you and one is crying in the next room?"
Embarrassed I defended myself by saying that if you grow up in a house with 13 people, you'll have to tune some things out if you want to get anything done. There is a little truth to my defense, but it was indefensible to let my sister cry while I chatted away.
Since having a baby of my own, I've noticed that I still tune out most things, but I'm always ready to hear her voice.
When she is laying down for a nap, I quietly catch up on tasks, listening intently all the while for the first whimper that signals nap time is over. I check regularly whether I hear a sound or not to make sure I haven't missed her cry. But when I do hear her, it is unmistakable. I know her voice so well; the voice of my baby. Five months of intensive one-on-one time has attuned me to her voice, even when we are in a large crowd of people.
My sensitivity to my baby's voice is a sensitivity I long to have to the voice of God.
In our daily devotional, we have been going through 1st Samuel. At the beginning of the book, Samuel, the child of Hannah's prayers, is called by name in the middle of the night. He mistakes it for the voice of the old prophet Eli. Eli, groggy with sleep, tells him to go back to bed. This happens three times before Eli "realized that the Lord was calling the boy." (1 Sam. 3:8) Eli then instructs Samuel to go back to bed, "and if He calls you, say, 'Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.'" (1 Sam. 3:9)
The Lord then speaks to Samuel, telling of the downfall of the house of Eli. Samuel shares the word of the Lord with Eli, which Eli accepts as the Lord's will. Samuel continues serving the Lord, and the Scripture says that "the Lord was with Samuel as he grew up and He let none of his words fall to the ground." (1 Sam. 3:19)
Eli is a tragic figure in the book of Samuel. He knew the Lord, but he has raised worthless sons that have been leading the people away from God with their wickedness. Eli is rarely, if ever, hearing the voice of God anymore. It says earlier in the passage that "in those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions." (1 Sam. 3:1)
I often identify with Samuel in this passage, wanting the simplicity of the words, "Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening," to be the theme of my life, the story of my days, the echoing cry of each minute I breathe. I want ears that not only hear the voice of God, but listen to it, and obey it.
Though I have long identified with Samuel, I fear becoming like Eli. I'm afraid that years of disobedience, or half-obedience may deaden my ears to the voice of the Lord, the voice calling my name in the quiet hours of the night. I'm afraid that I won't be ready to hear His voice, afraid that I will become complacent and miss it. Like Eli, I might miss the voice of God because I am out of practice and no longer attentive, instead of waiting to hear His voice at all times like I wait to hear my baby's voice.
I am not young Samuel anymore, hearing the voice of God for the first time. I have heard the voice of God in my life and responded to it. God has been with me. But mine is not a story of perfect obedience, and there are days that feel like the word of the Lord is rare. Times that I'm in danger of becoming the house of Eli, instead of the faithful Samuel.
Why don't I always listen? I'm afraid to listen because I'm afraid of the call to repentance, the voice calling me to smash an idol, to give more, to love more sacrificially, to stop living like my life is about me and my plans, to start losing this life to Jesus instead of scrambling to save it for myself.
What I forget though, is that every time I listen, God reminds of this first: "I love you Abby." The words that I so desperately need to hear always precede the words I'm afraid to hear. I am loved by God, and His kindness leads to me to repentance. (Romans 2:4) I repent because of God's love for me, out of love for Him.
Dallas Willard writes, "Our failure to hear His voice when we want to is due to the fact that we do not in general want to hear it, that we want it only when we think we need it." I want my desire to hear the voice of God to supersede my fear about what He might say, or what I hope to hear Him say.
The reason I can hear my baby's voice above all others is I practice listening to it. I strain to hear it. Sometimes I even imagine I have heard it and then check and find she is still sleeping quietly in the bedroom. I am ready at any given moment to hear her voice and drop whatever else I am doing immediately. I know her voice from practice and I hear it out of attentiveness.
I don't want to just listen to God when I have an important decision to make and need direction. I want to hear Him calling me to a better attitude as I wash the dishes, I want to hear Him speak of His love for my neighbors as I walk down our block, I want to hear Him when He calls me to little acts of faithfulness throughout the day. I want to hear the call to repentance, the call of mercy bringing me back from my sin. I want to hear the voice that says I love you not because of the things you do, but because I am love, and you are my beloved daughter. I want to practice attentiveness to the voice of God so I'm ready whenever He calls, not just when I want to hear Him.
Relationships collapse when the lines of communication are broken. We all want to be heard, but it's much harder to listen. I'm ready to stop talking at God and start listening.
"A man prayed, and at first he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until in the end he realized that prayer is listening." -Søren Kierkegaard.