Listening for God

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“We need to find God and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature, trees, flowers, grass grows in silence. See the stars the moon, the sun how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.” -Mother Teresa

I love what Mother Teresa has to say about silence, especially the last line concerning our need for silence to touch souls. Silence was something she spoke of often when asked by her fellow sisters, among others, on how to get closer to God. Her reference to touching souls, I firmly believe, pertains not only to how silence allows us to touch the souls of others, but also to how it allows us to let God touch our own souls first. So, with the words of a great and recently canonized Catholic saint in mind, if you’re having trouble hearing from God, take a good, honest look at the level of noise in your life.

As I discovered when I began to have my many much-needed come-to-Jesus moments, my noise levels were a lot higher than I realized. This was a double whammy for me. Not only was I giving way too much attention and importance to what the mass media and our culture in general were saying, but I worked in the very arena that was churning out those deceiving messages 24/7. My job as a broadcast journalist required me to be closely connected to TV, newspaper, and radio outlets. Obviously, it was important for me to be aware of local happenings and developments, but I took it way too far. It was so easy to convince myself that it was crucial to be almost literally tethered to all forms of communication. And this was back in the eighties and nineties, before e-mail and cell phones, not to mention the all-too-consuming social media streams, came on the scene in full force. For me, being connected meant turning on the radio as soon as I woke up and then watching the local TV news channels before I headed out the door. Once in the car, I would immediately continue listening to nonstop chatter about the happenings in the city and the world by tuning to the major news station on my way to work. With the noise in the car and my long drive in a major metropolitan area, even the slightest hint of silence would be afraid to show up anywhere near my neck of the woods.

The pattern would continue when I arrived home in the evening. The amount of time I spent monitoring every news outlet in town was unnecessary, and my obsession with always being in the know was consuming practically every waking minute of my day. I suffered from a severe case of FOMO — “fear of missing out.” Once cell phones and laptops became common, it got even worse.

In addition to all this noise, there was this loud voice (more like voices) in my head: the constant messages drilled into me in journalism school, internships, and newsrooms. This is what it took to be successful. The career came first, and my career meant all media, all the time. There was no room for anything or anyone else, including God and my spouse. It took a crisis in my marriage and my career for me to wake up, smell the cappuccino, and start paying attention to more than just the news. It wasn’t easy to go through what I refer to as my “cultural detox.” But gradually, as I made my way back to the Church, I learned to incorporate more silence and less noise. It didn’t mean giving up all media all the time. It meant finding balance and starting the day with God in the daily Mass readings instead of the local or national news. That’s a healthy habit that my spouse and I still practice almost daily. We take time to do the readings together and briefly discuss them before beginning the busyness of the day.

Since God is God, there’s no denying He can get our attention in the midst of a busy, noisy world. In Scripture, He often comes to us, as Mother Teresa reminds us, in silence, or, if not complete silence, something pretty close to it.

And he [the Lord] said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11–12)

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This article is adapted from a chapter in Listening for God by Teresa Tomeo which is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Art for this post on Listening: Cover and featured image used with permission.

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