If you're not hearing from the Lord, perhaps it's because you're listening wrong.
Julie never walks when she can run. Fortunately, even before I see her I can hear her coming by the sharp clap of her shoes against the flooring. Remembering another time she visited, I braced for a possible collision.
Clapclapclap. A skidding sound. Silence for an instant. Then a more temperate clap, clap, clap, and there she was, framed by the office door.
"'Morning, Professor T." She looked at me quizzically. "Why are you clutching the edge of your desk like that?"
I let go. "Just nervous, I guess."
She plopped into a chair. "Can I ask you a question?"
"What's the context?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, are you just wondering? Do you have a practical reason for asking? Have you been trying to explain prayer to someone else? Or does your question come out of the blue?"
"A practical reason. I'm trying to get God's guidance about some post-college things."
"So what's your question?"
She opened her eyes wide. "Why isn't He answering?"
I smiled. "How do you know that He isn't?"
"That's a funny question."
"How is it funny?"
"If He answered, wouldn't I know it?"
"Why are you so sure that you'd notice?"
"How could I not notice?"
"Sometimes we're not listening."
"Oh, I know about not listening. Like last week when I flew back to campus from my parents' house. Zack was supposed to pick me up at the airport, but he had a flat, and my cell phone was in my luggage."
She saw that I was mystified, and laughed. "I mean, If I'd just listened to the PA system, I could have saved myself 20 minutes of fuming. The whole time, it was droning 'Julie Terwilliger, please pick up a white paging phone for a message. Julie Terwilliger, please pick up a white paging phone for a message.' But it took me forever to hear it."
"Yes, that's right. Sometimes we're so distracted by not hearing anything that we can't hear anything."
"Yeah. But that's not my problem now. I am listening for my messages. From the Lord, I mean."
"What do you mean by listening?"
Julie tilted her head to one side. "That's an even funnier question than your other one. Listening is listening."
"I never quarrel with tautologies. But tell me more."
"What do you do when you listen?"
"I just — sit and — listen." She shook her shoulders like a dog shaking water from its fur. "What's not to get?"
"Julie, do you mean that you listen with your ears?"
She laughed and tapped her ears with her index fingers. Her earrings waggled. "Right, these little babies right here. Is there something else I could listen with?"
"As a matter of fact, there is."
For a moment she was puzzled. Then she said, "I get you. You're talking about feelings. Inward impressions. Yeah, actually you're right. Usually the Lord just sends me light bulbs."
"Illuminations. Like lights turning on. Isn't that what you were talking about?"
"No. Maybe you'd better explain."
"Haven't you ever felt as though a light just turned on? When a thought comes to you? Like in comic strips."
"That happens to me all the time, but I don't necessarily assume that's from God."
"You don't? Oh, I always do. Like the other day."
"What happened the other day?"
"I was driving down the road, wondering what I'd wear when Zack's parents were in town, when I saw the most darling little shop, and the Lord told me 'Turn in here.' Just like a light bulb in my head. So I did, and guess what I found?"
"The cutest little dress?"
"No, the cutest little skirt and top. Isn't the Lord good? It's just like what happened during course registration."
"What happened during course registration?"
"I needed to choose my classes — but I couldn't decide, and couldn't decide, and couldn't decide. Then I saw a class in my major, and it was still open, and I knew the professor was good, and it satisfied one of my requirements, and the Lord told me 'Register for that.' Just like a light bulb in my head. So I did, and I've been making all As. See what I mean?"
"What is it again that I'm supposed to be seeing?"
"About the light bulbs, of course. How God speaks to me. But that's my problem."
"Light bulbs are your problem?"
"No. Not having light bulbs is my problem. I've been asking and asking Him about the after-college things I mentioned, and He's not telling me a thing."
"No light bulbs?"
"No light bulbs, no voices, no feelings. Nothing. Nada. Zip."
"Julie —" I scratched my head. "I think you've been listening for the wrong things."
"Shouldn't I be listening for God?"
"Yes. But I think it very unlikely that those light bulbs and feelings of yours are from God."
"But I did find the perfect skirt and top, just where the Lord told me to turn in."
"You turned in there because you were already inclined to turn in there. It was 'the most darling little shop' — remember?"
"Well, maybe. But that doesn't explain how I found my course. I'd been looking and looking and —"
"Right, but you're leaving out the most important thing."
"That you found something. The reason you felt as though a light bulb had come on was that you finally saw a class in your major, it was still open, you knew the professor was good, and it satisfied one of your requirements."
"It sounds like you're telling me not to be thankful."
"On the contrary. Thank God for all things, both great and small. He does arrange circumstances and events."
"Then I don't know what you're telling me."
"I'm suggesting that good feelings about things aren't necessarily the voice of God."
"Are you telling me to ignore my feelings?"
"Not at all. I'm simply suggesting that you use your head."
"That seems like relying on myself instead of God."
"What do you think you've been relying on up to now?"
She paused. "You mean I've been relying on my feelings and sensations instead of God."
I nodded, smiling. She was silent for a few moments more.
"But I don't know how else to listen," she said.
"Use your mind. God gave it to you, didn't He?"
"But then I'm only thinking. How would that be listening?"
"Because I don't mean just thinking. I mean thinking with a difference — trusting God to make things clear in His own time, thinking in a spirit of adoration, of dependency, of trust. That includes trust that He is, in fact, changing your mind."
"That can't be biblical."
"Can't it? In Romans 12:2, Paul writes 'Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove' — that means 'discern' — 'that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.' Do you see what he's saying? He seems to think that the key to 'proving' or discerning the will of God isn't getting a certain kind of experience in the mind, but getting a certain kind of mind. Paul wants our minds to be 'renewed' through surrender to His will."
"Are you just saying that I should listen for thoughts instead of feelings?"
"No, I mean that you should let your mind rest in God, that you should let it abide in Him."
"Like, 'Okay, God, my mind is all ready, so drop some thoughts into it'?"
"Not that either. He made your mind to think, so don't let your mind just lie there — think. But think in His presence. Does that make it clearer?"
"You see, up to now you thought that you just had to open up your feelings. Actually you have to open up your whole person, including your powers of intellect and judgment."
"I'm beginning to get you. But that sounds scary."
"Sure it does. Before you've just waited for a jolt of experience, an interior 'happening.' What I'm suggesting is to walk by faith. It is scary at first. But it's actually closer to God."
"Maybe this is a stupid question, but I still don't see how that's listening!"
I laughed. "I think the image of 'listening' gets you into trouble because it makes you think of getting feelings in the ears. How about if we switch metaphors?"
She looked surprised. "To what?"
"Maybe your other image, 'illumination,' would be less misleading — if only you remember what the term really means!" I handed her a dictionary. "Here, look it up."
She found the word and read aloud. "The steady giving off of the form of radiation that makes vision possible."
"That's exactly what you should ask God to give your mind."
"Then I was right about light bulbs."
"No. You're not asking for sudden flashes, but for the steady light of grace that allows your mind to see more and more clearly what it's thinking about."
"'Think in His presence,' you said."
"Right. Not just sometimes. Not just when you have a problem. Not even just when you're praying and meditating. It's how we should try to do all of our thinking."
"I've never done anything like that."
I grinned. "Then you may as well begin."
PART 2: The Lord Told Me »
Copyright 2006 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.