are you listening
“—Hey, are you listening to me?” I pause mid-sentence, asking because I know what it is for him to listen. I know the impossibility he faces, without the ability to deafen distractions. And I’m telling him what will be, things he’ll want to have heard, mental notes he’ll want to keep.
“Yes,” he says softly, looking at me fully with those brilliant sky eyes, so I’ll know this is a real “yes,” and not just his default to agreement. I smile at him, that ruffled hair. It’s always ruffled at the top, right where it stood on end–tufted like a cardinal–when he was a baby. He drops my gaze and returns to gently bobbing his head, to reciting some mumbled snatch of a video game.
“Listen, now,” I say, thinking how I’m really just the same, so easily swept away. And God lately asks exactly the same of me: “–Hey, are you listening to me?” Listen is my word this year, already with a few different applications: listen to your body; listen to your husband, your children, your friends; listen to the Spirit. Maybe I can prioritize sensory information a bit better than my son, but the clamor of my thoughts always presents a real challenge. Carefully, I’m learning to entrust my ceaseless cognition to God so that I can Hear.
“Yes,” Adam says again, flashing me those eyes. He stops scripting mid-phrase, squeezing his eyes closed, and turns his ear toward my lips. He leans down until the apple of his chiseled cheek nearly touches my own. Everything about his posture says, “Yes, Mom, I’m listening.” Suddenly I’m reminded of what Samuel said as a boy when at last he realized God called him: Speak, for your servant is listening. And before that, he kept running to Eli’s side: Here I am, you called me (1 Samuel 3). More than merely hearing, listening involves presence, yielding, the deliberate inclination of the ear. Listening requires our intentional submission. Not my will. Yours. Focusing only on my voice will be nearly impossible for Adam; listening is one of the greatest difficulties of Autism, not that he pays too little attention but that he absorbs too much, like an unwanted flood sweeping through his thoughts. So, my son has learned to do what he can. He presses his eyes tightly closed, the way we teach children when they learn to pray, shutting out the only distraction he can control. And he teaches me: I want to hear, but I’m only just learning to listen.
Through the prophet Isaiah, God once called his people “children unwilling to listen (Isaiah 30: 9).” In fact, the distraction of God’s children ran to idolatry, and although he asked them to incline their ear (Isaiah 55:3), they would not. Finally, God promised his people a new kind of starvation:
The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it (Amos 8:11-12).
There are heavenly pauses when God stops mid-Word to get our attention, and all of creation holds its breath. Will we possess the wisdom to choose listening over distraction?
Lately, I’ve come to understand that my struggle to hear well has less to do with the powerful, clearly discernable, infernal articulation of the Spirit and more to do with my simple unwillingness to listen, to stop my thoughtful litanies and deliberately incline my ear, to lean my soul toward thinner spaces. God would tell me what will be, things I’ll want to hear, revelations I’ll want to keep; but He will not speak merely to hear His own voice, any more than I will continue reviewing our schedule with Adam if he’s only half-present to hear me. Adam knows this, has experienced the alarming realization that he missed the information he needed. My son wants to hear me. So, he listens–even though it requires both a careful choice and a great sacrifice of effort.
Tenderly now, I reach up and touch that warm cheek, the vulnerability of his waiting ear. I do love this child.
“Thank you,” I whisper.