us, at one time or another, have found ourselves caught in the loop of
wondering: is God speaking to me? Am I hearing correctly? Or am I hearing only
what I want to hear? How do I know if I’m actually open to what God has to say?
how our openness to God isn’t necessarily tied to any particular emotional
feeling, but rather has to be understood in the context of our lives as a
whole. How we live indicates how much weight our deeper desires should carry
in the process of our discernment which unfolds in conversation with God.
The question “am I truly open to hearing God?” can only be answered in light of the more fundamental question: do I live like I’m open to God? Because how we live determines if we make space for God regularly. We’re usually open to hearing God if we’re leading a listening kind of life.
How do we know if we’re leading a listening kind of life?
An American friend of mine once found herself engaged in a conversation about family pastimes in Italian. “My mother gardens,” said one girl; “my sister paints,” offered another. “My father makes fruit preserves!” my friend joined in, enthusiastically. “Peach, strawberry, all different kinds,” she continued, slightly oblivious to the growing silence around the table. “The whole family helps, every summer!”
Finally, one of the older women at the table quietly asked her to clarify. “Fruit preserves!” My friend said again, in Italian. Noticing the shocked look on everyone’s faces, she stepped into the kitchen to get a jar of jam. Holding it up, she repeated triumphantly, “fruit preserves! See?”
The Italians then very kindly explained that “preservativi” in Italian does not mean “preserves.” It means “condoms.”
Talk about a learning experience.
Speaking the language through trial and error led my friend to discover “false friends”: words that sound similar in two languages but in fact mean very different things.
“False friends” are dangerous when learning languages, but they show up when we are learning to discern, too. They masquerade as something helpful, so we use them eagerly. Unknown to us, though, they are leading us away from our true purpose.
When was the last time you spent 10 minutes in total silence? No noise, no distractions, no background ambiance: just total, complete silence? This was a question I asked some high school students several years ago (before smart phones were even the norm.) Most of them said that they had never done so in their entire lives.
An entire life lived without ten minutes of silence.
Naturally, I assigned them this task as part of their homework. They had to go somewhere alone, preferably in nature, without electronic gadgets and without other people, to sit in total silence for 10 whole minutes. For those who were open to it, this kind of exercise actually changed their approach to life. They learned the value of contemplation and the benefits of settling their souls into stillness in a world of rush and busyness.
Why does silence hold such power? Why can a mere 10 minutes change us?