Eavesdropping on two older sisters was my best early listening practice. It was easy to listen when they didn’t want me to hear secrets, plans or anything to do with boys. I had to control my breathing in the next room and knew they sensed me if they said, “Little pitchers have big ears,” which meant they knew I was listening. The conversation would then become guarded, boring and possibly turn to them passing notes back and forth. While my sisters were an endless stream of top notch information, listening to my parents or other adult conversation was disquieting at times. I was piecing together bits of information and incorrectly filling in the blanks, my senses deceiving me, listening determinedly to connect the dots.
In second grade I was listening to our elderly downstairs boarder, Maxine, visiting with two friends when the topic turned to tornadoes. They were trying to outdo each other with what they’d heard about an upcoming storm. One of them said our little town of Frankfort, Indiana, would be blown off the map; so, I asked my family what it might mean. My siblings shrugged, and Mother said, “It sounds like someone thinks Frankfort may be gone forever, but where did you hear such a crazy thing? Are you listening at Maxine’s door again?” I didn’t admit it, but proceeded to have a series of nightmares, tears and beg for a bright nightlight before I confessed I was very sorry to have listened in on Maxine’s conversation with her friends. All sympathy ceased, and I was promptly told it served me right for being impolite and nosy.
Then at 12, I was reading under the dining room table one afternoon avoiding the front room guests, still within earshot in the odd chance the conversation turned colorful. A guest sighed and announced, “There is nothing new under the sun.” It seemed to be out of the blue, her statement, but it may have been connected to earlier ideas too boring for a twelve-year-old to hang onto. The declaration, however, intrigued me. “Nothing new under the sun.” Well, I instantly knew she was wrong and could prove it in many ways. I’d peeked into the robin’s nest in the magnolia tree and watched the new hatchlings. We were told to leave it alone, that the mother bird would bite us and peck our eyes out. It seemed possible. I hadn’t touched the babies, but I had looked at them many times. The guest stating that nothing was new under the sun received some “Amen sisters,” from everyone. Nearly everyone. No one corrected her.
Surely my father wouldn’t stand for such foolishness. I studied him to see why he had allowed the statement to hang there unchallenged. He didn’t let us get away with wild statements like that for anything. I crawled to a different spot in the dining room and observed him. Glasses in front pocket, he was sitting way back in the easy chair, miles away, quite possibly about to fall asleep. I would seek him later in his study and we would fix this. Later I knocked on his door. When he saw it was me he asked if I was helping Mother as I should be. I knew he was trying to distract me from bothering him. “Dad, you know how Mrs. Willen said there was nothing new under the sun?” He looked over his glasses, “Oh, did she now?” I explained how he was sitting there at the time and the adults all agreed and how it is not true. Dad answered, “And you should read the Bible a lot more and yap a lot less, as the entirety of human kind and the authors of the Scriptures are older and wiser than yourself.” Dad pushed his Bible toward me where he had turned to Ecclesiastes one verse nine. “Don’t just read the one verse either; read the whole book. Of course, I didn’t understand it on anything but the most literal of levels. It was a sad and confusing thing a bit like riding a merry go round at my age. Dad quizzed me about what I learned. I thought the writer grumpy and disregarding the wealth of information stored there, could not agree with “Nothing new under the sun.”
Every day is new. The baby birds are new. “Virginia, I told you to leave those birds alone!” My mother scolded me from two rooms away. “That mother bird is going to peck your eyes out!” I didn’t dare accuse Mom of eavesdropping on me. I continued with my argument for Dad, “Plus at breakfast I saved another box top. Only seven more and I’ll have a NEW Sally Skater Finger Ding Doll from Post Cereal. I really like the Betty Ballerina doll, but Mother says her tutu is immodest and we don’t dance.” Dad began to laugh, “Oh, if only the wise teacher, who is perhaps King Solomon, had access to a box top cereal doll from the Post Company. That would have surely delighted him beyond measure, and changed the plot lines of Ecclesiastes,” He took off his glasses and blew his nose, laughing and laughing. He began his dismissive finger wave, palm down and fingers scooting me forward in the air from where he sat at his desk. It was his gesture to leave the study. He cleared his throat and stated, “Now listen, you’re a child. Everything is new to you. The writer here is someone who has experienced much more. Just trust me that the teacher’s sentiments will be more understood as you grow older. Keep reading.” He kept laughing and teasing me about wise King Solomon and Post Cereal box top dolls nearly every time he saw me for a few days. When the Finger Ding doll came in the mail months later he laughed again. He often told me it was a good thing I brought a little humor to the table as I was a most vexing child.
Recently, I prayed, “Dear Lord, I have nothing to say. I am so tired of myself saying the same things. Asking for the same things, chewing and chewing on the same things. I am so bored with myself; how bored must you be with me? I am going to listen now. I want to hear your voice. I need to hear your voice.” I promptly fell asleep until the next morning. I tried the prayer again while awake and alone; all conditions set for quiet time. I found myself staring into space, Scripture verse written twice on the page to hold my attention. The page was covered with doodles and a grocery list begun on the side. While driving, I prayed again to hear his voice. In short order I was complaining aloud about things I have no control over such as drivers making dangerous lane changes and ubiquitous road construction.
As I begin to write about listening, I realize I am weak, but his Word is strong. I hope to learn to do better as I explore the idea. I wonder if I have ever listened. Truly listened to God even one time. Ever? Or if I’ve been in a cosmic argument stirring doubt and fear punctuated by the occasional seed of hope around and around my whole life. It isn’t just being still, though that’s a start. It isn’t just being quiet, though that’s a start. We learn to not speak, but that isn’t listening, it’s waiting for one’s turn. So, I will walk with the promises I read in his Word. I will sing truths. I will practice listening in active worship. I will walk in his world, listening to the waves, wind, bird calls and the thunder. I won’t listen because I’m told to but choose to listen because I want to hang onto his every word. I want to be a little pitcher with big ears listening, listening for his still, small voice.