After all, we believe that God created us and loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. What kind of God would create us and love us and want to be in relationship with us, but never speak to us? We believe that God is deeply interested in each of us, in our hopes and fears and dreams. How could God possibly not want to speak to us about those things? So if we haven’t heard God speaking to us lately, maybe it’s not because God hasn’t been speaking, but because we haven’t been listening.
One of the things that can get in the way of hearing God is that we get stuck on thinking that if God were to speak to us, it would have to be in some highly dramatic biblical fashion, like a thundering voice from a cloud. This can be a big roadblock--if we’re looking for a voice from a cloud, we’re probably going to miss the ways that God is really speaking to us. God can speak to us through our emotional responses to events and experiences in our lives, through his Word, through the words that people in our lives say to us, through creation, through the sacraments, through the Church, through art and music and literature. God speaks to us all the time in a thousand ways that we can understand, if we really want to. A huge part of listening to God is just paying attention.
But it’s also true that sometimes, we don’t listen to God because we don’t really want to hear what God is saying. We’re afraid that we’ll have to change in some way that we’re not really open to, or that God might ask us to do something we’re not prepared to do. So we avoid hearing the word that God is speaking to us by not bothering to pay attention. Maybe deep down we have a gut feeling that we know what God is saying to us through our experiences or through another person, and it’s something we really don’t want to hear. Or maybe we have already decided what we want God to say to us, and we’re only willing to listen if God says the words that we’re trying to put in his mouth. So we resist and rebel, doing the spiritual equivalent of sticking our fingers in our ears and saying, “I can’t hear you!”
For me, there was a time in my life when I was very intentionally trying to discern God’s will for me. I wanted God to tell me specifically what kind of work he wanted me to do, so I was spending a lot of time asking, “What do you want me to do, Lord?”, and a lot of time hearing nothing in response. The possibilities that I thought might be God’s will for me didn’t work out, and over the course of several months, I became increasingly frustrated and resentful: here I was wanting to know God’s will so I could live it out, and he wouldn’t even tell me what it was. I kept hammering away and hammering away, until eventually in prayer it occurred to me that maybe “What do you want me to do, Lord?” was not the question God wanted to answer for me right then. It was what I was interested in talking to God about, but maybe it was not what God wanted to talk to me about. So I began to try to listen to God not for an answer to my questions, but for whatever God was trying to say to me. And slowly I began to hear God say, “You don’t need to worry about that right now. Just serve where you are. You don’t need to figure out some grand plan. Just serve the people I put in front of you every day.” I started to hear God saying “Just serve,” in a very strong and comforting way, all the time. In hearing that message and trying to follow it, I felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t known I needed. As it turns out, God has a much better sense of what I need to hear than I do. But I have to keep relearning this lesson over and over again.
Take your next step: The Examen is a way of praying developed by St. Ignatius that helps us to grow in our ability to recognize and hear God’s voice. It takes about 10-15 minutes a day. Try praying the Examen every day for a week as a way to become more open to hearing God speak to you.