While deleting old files from my laptop, I discovered a children’s story I did a few years ago. It was part of a series on teaching children different ways to pray. My task was to teach the children how to be silent and listen for God to speak to them. This is not an easy concept for adults to understand, so how do you teach children ways to listen to God?
When a person prays, they often say things to God but don’t take time to listen for a response. In this situation, prayer happens when a person does the talking (or thinking) and God listens. There is only conversation happening one direction, from us to God. True friends have a mutual give and take in a relationship, so they take turns speaking and listening. An important part of praying is learning to listen to God instead of always talking and expecting God to listen. How can we listen to God when God doesn’t have a body and doesn’t speak with a voice the way people do?
One way people learn to listen to what God is saying is by becoming very quiet on the inside (internally within our hearts) and the outside (externally with our bodies). When a person reaches this point of stillness, they stay quiet for a period of time in awareness of their connection with God. It is like two people sitting quietly on a beach watching a sunset and enjoying the companionship with each other without the need for words.
People are so accustomed to being busy and active that stillness is really difficult. You notice your thirst or hunger or the itchy spot on your arm. New thoughts pop into your mind almost as fast as you let go of the previous one. The body becomes restless and the chair feels uncomfortable. If you practice being still often enough, it becomes easier to listen without these distractions. You realize that God does speak to people with ideas or feelings or words to a song or mind-pictures. Each person experiences this listening time in different ways. It is hard to know how God will speak to you until you actually listen.
Sometimes when people first start to listen for God’s response, it seems like God isn’t there. You can’t tell if it is really God who’s speaking to you, or if you are just making it up in your imagination. This is a normal response. God loves that you are trying to listen and will surprise you in many different ways if you keep paying attention. God uses your thoughts and imagination and other sensory experiences to communicate with you.
Take a moment right now to try a listening prayer. This is one way to get quiet on the inside and outside. Make sure you are comfortable in your chair. Wiggle around until your body feels comfortable and relaxed. Allow your arms to rest in your lap. You can close your eyes if you wish to remove visual distractions or you can focus on an object in the distance. Instead of looking intently at the object, try to stare at it with “soft eyes.” This means your face is relaxed and soft while your eyes stare through the object, which allows the object to become slightly out of focus. If your body becomes uncomfortable, take a few deep breaths in and out.
Imagine sending love to God and feeling God’s love return back to you. This may make you feel really happy. You might imagine a stream of light like a flashlight shining from your body up to heaven and God’s love coming back down to you like a sunbeam shining on your body. You may wish to cross your arms over your chest as if giving yourself a hug to give a bodily sensation of being loved and held by God.
Once you are in this time of stillness, you can ask God a specific question or tell God something on your mind, then sit back and wait for a response. You can approach this time with a sense of curiosity and openness. You might receive a response which may show up as an idea, words to a song or a visual image. Sometimes you will become aware of a signal in the environment around you, such as a warning siren in the distance or your pet snuggling up to you. You might wonder what message God might be trying to tell you with these signals you noticed. When you feel that it is time to end the prayer, take a moment and express thanks to God for the time of listening and companionship. People often end their time of prayer with “Amen” or “Let it be so” or with a bow.
Listening prayer takes practice. Try to do this prayer first thing in the morning before you get out of bed or right before you go to sleep at night. God wants to have a conversation with us every day and is very happy when you take time to listen.
What things do you notice when you listen to God?