This past week, I've been reading a book by Frederick Buechner called The Hungering Dark. What I read today struck me:
"We all suffer to some degree from deafness, are certainly at best hard of hearing. We find it very hard to hear what other people are saying to us, either hard in the sense of difficult or hard in the sense of painful and sometimes hard in both senses at once. Somebody comes up and makes a remark about the weather, let us say, and all that we are able to hear or all that we allow oursleves to hear is someone making a remark about the weather. 'Looks as though we might get some rain' is all that gets through to us when what he is really saying, of course - and sometimes we know this and sometimes we do not - is maybe, 'I'm lonely. Be my friend, for Christ's sake. Speak,' or maybe, 'I know you are lonely.' And in our deafness, our only response is to say, 'Well we could certainly use it,' and then we indicate that we have plenty of our own work to get on with. The truth of it is that if you really listen to another person, whether on the surface he is talking about the weather or predicting the outcome of the World Series or even preaching a sermon, if you really listen, you begin to realize that what he is really talking about is himself. He is saying, 'Love me' or maybe 'Hate me' or 'Pity me,' but always he is saying one way or another, 'Listen to me. Know me.' Only most of the time people like you and me are deaf to this. We hear only the words. We hear only what is most comfortable to hear. But once in a while, by the grace of God more often than not, we hear scraps at least of what people are actually saying." (70-71)
As I was doing some driving tonight, with Buechner's words in the back of my mind, I was thinking about my gratefulness for people who speak words of truth to me: mentors and friends who, at just the right time, say things like, "God is with you", "Don't be afraid", "Humble yourself", "Take courage".
For almost a year now, I've been especially sensitive to words like these, and whenever they come to me and in whatever ways (whether through an email, a conversation, or a formal blessing), I'm struck by them. For reasons I don't fully understand, those are the words that give me pause (sometimes a long pause!) and stay with me a long time. They're words I don't easily forget, and mysteriously, they really do give me strength.
There are a lot of reasons why that happens, I think, but I made a connection tonight that I hadn't thought of before.
To draw on Buechner's imagery, maybe those who speak these words of truth to us are those who hear the words beneath our words. They listen to our worries, our complaints, our half-jokes...and they hear us say, "I need you", and beneath even that, "I need to hear something true." Because more than anything we could hear about our particular situations (though we need to hear that, too), maybe what we need most is to hear whispers of truth, gently reminding us of who we are and to whom we belong.
And I don't know why we so often need those words spoken to us when we can easily enough say them to ourselves. I wonder if it has to do with God indwelling his children, speaking to and taking care of us through one another. In needing him, we need each other.
May our Father give us ears to truly hear, and may he whisper the truth of his presence, power, and love through us.