Listening

by Dan Kuckuck, Pastor at St. Stephen Lutheran, Urbandale, IA and a LEAD Consultant

Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.  — Parker Palmer

Samuel’s mother, Hannah, had gone for years without bearing any children. She prayed at the temple of the Lord and promised that if she bore a son, he would be given to the Lord’s service all the days of his life. Soon enough, Hannah conceived and bore a son. When he was weaned, he went to live in the temple under the direction of Eli the priest.

One night, Samuel thought he heard something. “Samuel!”

He thought it was his old priest, Eli, calling to him. (Because, you see, in those days the word of the Lord was rare.) Eli reassured him that it was all in his head and sent him back off to bed. God called the name “Samuel” two more times, totally baffling Samuel but confirming for Eli that this was, in fact, the Lord.

“Go lie down,” said Eli, “and should someone call to you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” And so the Lord called, and Samuel answered as instructed, and the Lord revealed, “I am about to do such a thing in Israel that whoever hears of it, both his ears will ring.”

From that quiet night, Samuel went on to be a great prophet of Israel—a leader, a kingmaker—helping to define the lives of faith for the next generation of God’s people. It would have never happened, though, if he hadn’t stopped to listen.

How much time each day do you spend listening? I don’t mean listening to music in the background, or listening to words being spoken in your general direction. I mean really listening—absorbing the words being said to you by a friend or spouse, without your mind wandering; and allowing the melodies of music to fill your soul, while doing nothing else (and certainly not driving).

Studies have shown that the average listener will only retain about 50% of a 10-minute talk immediately after hearing it. That means, right out of the gate, we’ve forgotten half of what we’ve heard. After 48 hours, that number drops to 25%. A poll of spouses might confirm even lower numbers.

You can imagine the scene of Samuel’s calling in the present day. With a television on in the background, music blaring, attention given to various devices and projects all at once, the whispered call of “Samuel” may not be as easy to hear. What’s more, if Samuel doesn’t choose to continue to listen, and instead dismisses his calling as a trick of the mind, the entire biblical narrative comes to a grinding halt. Listening is critically important.

Parker Palmer, the Quaker writer, thinks listening is of critical importance when it comes to discerning what our calling into the world is all about. “Vocation [calling] does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear.” He goes on: “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” If you’ve ever wondered how God is calling you into the future without listening to what God has to say, you might find yourself wondering about that question for a long while.

When it comes to listening, we have work to do as people of faith. When we don’t listen, we miss things—important information, meaningful connections, beautiful melodies. When we do listen, however, the world changes. Beethoven’s Fifth becomes more than “bum-bum-bum-bummm,” but an entire symphony. The people around you have just as colorful and varied an emotional life as you do. We remember who is supposed to pick up the kids and who is supposed to make dinner. And we find that, in each day, there just might be a moment when your name is whispered by the God of all creation, calling you into a life that you would have never imagined on your own.

Listen up.

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