So this Sunday at MHBC was maybe one of the loudest Sundays ever. I don’t mean loud in the sense of music or special effects or mic volume. It was loud with chatter and movement and babies and kids and adults who were sorting themselves out. There were newborns that needed cuddles. There were people coming and going throughout the sermon because a traffic problem had tied up a group of people from out of town who were coming for a dedication. Some of our friends with special needs were having a hard day.
Now, let me make this clear: this was not a problem. We are not a church that worries much about a little noise. We get that babies cry and that people need to move around and it’s just not a big deal. We really do want people to come just as they are – and stay if who they are is a little noisy sometimes.
Our loud Sunday was not a problem – but it was certainly ironic. Because this Sunday my sermon was about learning to listen for God’s voice. It just seemed a little hilarious that on a Sunday with several moments where I invited people to pause for some moments of quiet that we were in the midst of a perfect storm of noisiness. One person told me after that he thought I had actually planned it on purpose as a sermon illustration. Admittedly if I had been quick on my feet I totally could’ve said: “And to make my point today that it is hard to be quiet, you will notice that I put lots of distractions around us. You’re welcome!” And then everyone could have been like “Oh that Leanne…she’s so clever. This was her plan all along. How creative!” But the truth is I was a little distracted myself and having my own struggle to hear God’s voice in the midst of it all, so my quick thinking was not at its best. Also, I do adhere to the belief that ministers shouldn’t lie. So there’s that.
The reality was I had planned for some quiet, and it was loud. And isn’t that life so much of the time?
We have been talking together as a church about moving forward as disciples. One way that we grow as disciples, I believe, is through learning how to listen. This week we talked specifically about listening to who God says we are instead of what other voices may tell us we are. We encouraged people to pause and hear God’s voice which calls us beloved and invites us to follow Him. And we encouraged people to keep doing that throughout the week.
The practice – or activity – that I suggested for people to try is called “Palms Down/Palms Up.” I read about in a book by Richard Foster. The idea is very simple. Sit and place your palms face down on your lap. As you do, tell God the things that you want to let go. “God – I let go of my anger towards my friend. I let go of the stress I am feeling. I let go of the hurtful voices that I have let shape me.” Pause in quiet as you ask God to help you let go. Then turn your palms facing up. Tell God that you want to receive – His love, His voice, His words. It is a powerful practice to pause and listen, and I encourage you to try it this week.
Of course, when we tried it together on Sunday, it was far from quiet…
And, of course, when you try it, it may be far from quiet as well.
What I learned on Sunday is that it is impossible to turn off all the noise. What we can do is try to listen anyway, around it, in spite of it. It’s not as much about taking time to be quiet, as it is taking time to LISTEN – whether it is quiet or not.
Can you hear God around the traffic and the baby crying and the child demanding more of our attention and the buzz of our cell phone and the inner frustrations that crowd our thoughts whenever we try to be quiet? I think that you can. Just…pause. Pause even if it’s not quiet. Pause even if it’s not perfect. Pause even if you’re not sure what you’re listening for. Pray “God I let go… God I receive…”
Repeat as needed…
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Bart Kosko wrote an excellent book, Noise, on the search for quiet. The public library link’s at http://hpl.bibliocommons.com/item/show/5214385084_noise. Enjoy.
Awesome! Thanks Josh!
I don’t mind the noise particularly since I grew up in such a busy, crowded household that was full of lots of noise all the time. I like that MHBC is a busy, noisy place, and so very human. I did like that exercise. I prefer listening hands up, and have done that for quite a while now. it’s nice to see it used officially in a service.
I’m glad to hear that Ruth!