I’m going to tell you strange things today. Like about the times early in my marriage when I prayed to God, telling him about the pain of being married to another broken human being. I brought to God things I had never said to my husband because I knew he wouldn’t be able to receive them. And it happened more that once that my husband came home from working so hard to take care of us and said, “today, I really felt like God was telling me . . . ” And nearly word-for-word what I had said to God came out of his mouth. It turns out that the man who God provided for me has an uncanny ability to listen and hear God. It wasn’t the last time he would tell me things he had no way of knowing.
But one of the strange things about this life is that as much as we might want and seek after God as a way of protecting ourselves from the chaos and pain of life, it just doesn’t work that way. In time when the blows of life finally overtook us, this marriage of ours fell apart. I’d always said that we’d either end up as one of the world’s great love stories or self-destruct in a truly spectacular fashion. For a long time, it has seemed that the latter was our fate. It wasn’t that we stopped trying – far from it. In fact, in the middle of our worst arguments, my husband began to stop to pray and listen to God. I followed his lead and began doing it as well. We became the only couple in all of creation perhaps that would actually stop to seek God in between throwing accusations and curses and venom at each other. And yet, even with both of us seeking after God, our marriage continued to devolve.
Only I’ve discovered that hearing God isn’t enough. In communication there is what is said, what is heard and what it understood. And it turns out that one must know God better than we humans actually know him to understand what he is saying. I learned this when one day my husband told me, “be careful – God told me that there are two voices you are hearing.” The way he said it made it clear that he thought I was being deceived. This was his own belief – that I was wrong and refusing to deal with reality. He thought God was confirming this. Only unbeknownst to him, I had been praying regularly to God complaining that I was no longer sure if I was listening to Him or just hearing what I wanted to hear – talking to myself. Over and over again, I had asked, “how do I know that when I think I hear you, I’m not just hearing what I want to hear?” And he answered me – “you’re hearing two voices.” I knew what it meant – you’re not just talking to yourself. But my husband, working with a different set of assumptions and knowledge, took away something totally different. As we can see perfectly well with all the people who know God’s word yet know little of love, simply hearing God is quite different from understanding Him.
There are many ways to learn to listen to God. Mostly you pay attention. You don’t assume that all co-incidences are actually just co-incidences (although some are). You pay attention when someone says something that makes your heart leap. You pay attention to patterns that show up over and over and wonder what they might mean. But mostly, you learn to be mindful of your own thoughts. You learn to sort the rubbish from the rest. You learn to recognize what Love sounds like. This is why I was having such a hard time listening for God, I think. The more God restores you to the image of love you were created to be, the more you sound and think like Love. But we are taught not to trust ourselves. To be so concerned about pride that we can’t accept that we were actually created to sound not so different from God. We are so indoctrinated with the idea that we are fallen, depraved, with no good in us that we find it hard to accept that our true identity mirrors Love itself. And that it’s actively being recovered for us. But God is patient.
My husband and I spent today in conflict. Rehashing things that cannot be undone. Reminding each other of our worst failures, in case the other had forgotten. Demanding to be heard and dealt with fairly – as if either of us were God and could judge the other like that. Finally, I left. My husband made himself a drink and I drove towards the prayer labyrinth at a local church. It’s our way – he consoles himself with a drink, I go to pray. And clearly neither has done a great deal of good thus far. But as I drove, that other voice said, “don’t do that. Let me take care of you.” And I told myself not to listen. How can I go wrong praying? And still that voice insisted, “don’t do that. Let me take care of you. Go to the grocery store. Get dinner. Go home. Let me take care of you.” I drove into the church parking lot and stopped. I wanted to write off that voice as not from God – how could God tell me not to go pray? But I remembered what my husband told me – “you’re hearing two voices.” And then God reminded me of his instructions to Abram – “leave your home and your family and go to a place I will show you.” This is how God works – do what I’ve instructed, even when you can’t see how it’s going to work. Even if you think you know a better way.
So I left the church parking lot and headed to the grocery store. And on the way, God told me things – reminded, really. About who my husband and I are. About why we struggle so badly. About the jobs we each have to do. About why we belong together and keep coming back together no matter how hard we’ve tried to pull apart. That there is a larger purpose at work. That as usual, we’ve been looking at all the wrong things. We’ve been arguing because we want to pretend to be living for ourselves. As if we don’t know that God has a claim on our lives. That what matters is money and housekeeping and appreciation and affirmation rather than what we have been purposed to do.
I got home and before I could speak, my husband reached out to hold me tight. He’d been listening too.