Listening. It's a daily topic in our household, and it's one of Penny's greatest challenges. A few weeks back, she and William were visiting my aunt and uncle. Aunt Jane asked Penny, "Where are your listening ears?"
"I left them at home," she replied.
"Don't worry, Penny. I brought them for you," says William. He plucked them out of his pocket.
"Oh! Thanks." And from there she was all set.
It doesn't always work so easily.
Penny's teachers have had a hard time with her lately. One babysitter reported a moment when Penny walked away (per the picture) and wouldn't stop. Penny's Nana said to me, "You are far more tolerant of her behavior than any of the rest of us." Oh. Gulp.
So in addition to reading my first ever parenting book (Beyond Time Out by Beth Grosshans), I've also been trying to figure out when and why Penny doesn't listen. She doesn't listen very well when she's tired.
She doesn't listen very well when she's distracted.
But most of all, she doesn't listen very well when she has her mind set upon something.
There's an ancient commandment which served as a cornerstone for the Israelite's faith: "Hear, O Israel. The Lord your God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:4-5). Jesus echoes these words when he is asked his opinion on the greatest commandment.
In Hebrew, the word for hear is closely linked to the word for obey. With Penny, I want her to hear me and other authorities in her life, and I want that hearing to translate into obedience. But as I've thought about what makes it difficult for Penny to listen (and obey), I've realized that the same is true for me.
I have a hard time listening to God. Especially these days. I'm tired. I'm distracted. And I want what I want.
About a week ago, I talked to Penny about being a good listener at school. "I want to be a good listener. I'll get a sticker at circle time." She came home that day with a report card of sorts. Her teacher broke the day up into 7 parts. Penny received stickers for 6 of them. We taped it to the refrigerator. She beamed.
And again, I need to remember that listening to God and conforming my life to what I hear isn't oppressive. It's life-giving.
Last night, I asked Penny if I could pray for her before she went to sleep. I thanked God because she's been learning how to listen, and I asked for God's help as she continues to learn. And then I said, "And Lord, please let Penny know how precious and loved she is. Amen."
We talked for a few minutes after the prayer, and then Penny looked at me. "What precious mean?" she asked.
"It means very very special."
She nodded, with a smile.
Listening is hard work. It takes attentiveness and rest and a willingness to change my goals and desires. And yet sometimes when we listen closely we hear the very words we are desperate to hear: "You are precious. And deeply loved."