How God Speaks When We’re Not (Barely?) Listening
A few weeks ago, I had a revelation.
I was sitting at a stoplight, waiting and praying for the light to turn. I wasn’t running late. I didn’t really have anywhere important to be. Honestly, I was just being impatient. But no sooner had I uttered my request than the light changed.
By all accounts, this wasn’t a significant moment. It didn’t have any momentous, universal effects. It wasn’t miraculous. In all reality, the light was probably about to change anyway.
That moment stuck with me though, because that was the moment I realized that sort of thing had been happening a lot. It didn’t matter whether I was praying for a light to change or for someone else to offer to carpool so I didn’t have to drive or even just that I’d be able to cross two lanes of traffic in time for my exit. God was answering all of my little prayer requests, sometimes in as little as thirty seconds. Not once, not twice, but repeatedly, and if there’s anything I remember from my college English class, it’s the phrase, “If it’s repeated, it’s important.”
In any other circumstance, I’d struggle to find the significance of a stoplight changing, but this was different. What most people don’t know is that I’ve been struggling with prayer for the last several months, especially regarding my vocation. Just for some context, I’m in my mid-twenties and most of my friends are already married. This past summer alone, I went to three weddings in the span of a month. By this time next year, there might be one other single girl in my friend group. Meanwhile, I’ve never been in a relationship and don’t currently have any prospects. Most days, it’s hard not to feel left behind.
Of course, whenever I tell my Catholic friends this, their advice is, “Oh, pray this novena to St. Joseph or St. Anne or St. Raphael or St. Valentine… I did and I met my fiancé/husband/boyfriend within a month!”
That’s great and I’m happy that worked for them, but I can’t tell you how many novenas I’ve done for this intention. What I can tell you is that at this point, I feel like I’ve flipped through the saint phone book and everyone’s blocked my number. Because the real issue I’ve been struggling with isn’t just that my prayer isn’t being answered. It doesn’t feel like it’s even being heard and trying to pray with that mindset is practically impossible. After all, to quote Les Miserables, “What’s the use of praying if there’s nobody who hears?”
The reason that moment in my car was so significant is because that was the moment the light finally went on (pun absolutely intended). That tiny, insignificant prayer request was what it took for me to finally understand what God’s been trying to do. That was the moment I finally heard what He’d been trying to tell me for who knows how long. In the silence of my car, I could almost hear Him saying, “Don’t worry. I’ve got this. If I pay attention to your small requests, do you think I’ll forget about the others? I just need you to trust me. Trust that you are exactly where I need you.”
That was the moment I realized God had been trying to reach me and I hadn’t been paying attention. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m known for being slightly oblivious. A favorite prayer of mine is, “Please Lord, show me the way and make it obvious because I’m an idiot.” If it’s not big and bold and flashing (think Gabriel or a burning bush), I’ve probably missed it.
But as much as I’d love Him to, God doesn’t usually speak to us like that. He doesn’t even use the same method for everyone. How He spoke to me probably wouldn’t mean anything to most of humanity and most days, it didn’t even mean anything to me. But what’s important is that day it did. It wasn’t big. It wasn’t flashing. But it was enough.
There’s a story about Mother Teresa that has stuck with me ever since I heard it. When asked what she did while praying, she answered, “I listen”. When asked what God did, her answer was just as simple: “He listens”.
Now, when I first heard that story, her answers didn’t make much sense. How can it be a conversation if both participants are listening?
But what I didn’t realize until recently was that I subconsciously limit prayer and communication with God to actual speaking. That’s what I was looking for when I prayed and that’s what I was missing.
But verbally saying “I love you” isn’t the only way to communicate it. Lovers use all sorts of ways to articulate their love, whether that’s through hand holding or kissing or doing the dishes or making their significant other’s favorite meal. Though talking is the most obvious, humans use a variety of “languages” to communicate that we care.
What I finally realized at that stoplight is that God is no different. It’s harder to notice since He’s not physically taking our hand, but that doesn’t mean He’s not trying to reach us, and our inability to hear God doesn’t mean He’s not speaking. What it does tell us is He’s not speaking in the language we expect.
The beautiful thing is that that language, whatever it is, is going to change from person to person and maybe even from moment to moment. Sometimes it’s a changing traffic light. Sometimes it’s a rainbow in a moment when we just need a little bit of hope. Sometimes it’s the song that matches our heart when nothing else can. But whatever that language is, it is the perfect one to reach us in that moment.
We just have to learn to listen.
Noelle M. is a cradle Catholic with a love for adoration and all things football (Roll Tide). She spends her days immersed in stories and air conditioning in an effort to survive the 9 month summer of the Deep South (so far, so good). A romantic at heart, she can occasionally (always) be coaxed into ballroom dancing. For more of Noelle M., visit her blog, https://beingevanescent.wordpress.com/ or email her at email@example.com.