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Cutting Through the Chaos to Listen for God

During a quiet prayer time, he made an unexpected discovery with angelic guidance from above.

Rick Hamlin; Photo credit: Jim Anness

One winter morning I sat cross-legged on the sofa in the TV room, as was my habit, a throw over my shoulders. We still called it the TV room, even though there was no TV in it anymore, just a lot of books and knick-knacks, and it could be chilly.

I closed my eyes and tried my best to tune out the world for half an hour or so to enjoy my private time with God. As usual, it took me a while to get started.

Mom used to reprimand us when we were kids, the four of us always chattering, making a racket. “Listen to me,” she’d say. “You can’t listen if you’re always talking.” It was even harder to get quiet enough to hear God. I thought about that line from the Psalms, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers them.” For me that meant putting myself in some psychic space, making my own encampment where the angels might feel welcome to swoop in and surround me while I reached for silence.

A car drove by, a dog barked, the wind blew, the radiator rattled. I pulled the throw tighter around me, as if it might help shield me from distractions. Even noisier than the ones outside were the worries careening through my head: unread emails, an overdue phone call, yet another doctor appointment…

I knew from experience that if I ignored the distractions, they only grew louder, nagged at me, caused resentment, and my prayer time would be shot. I used the “catch and release” method to do battle: Catch the stray thought and release it.

From the dog barking in the distance to the doctor appointment I wasn’t looking forward to, I acknowledged each distraction and put it in God’s hands. For this half-hour at least, I tried my best to let God and his angels do the heavy lifting. My only job was to free myself of anything but his presence. To listen.

My efforts during a recent prayer time had led to an unexpected discovery. A name had come to me, seemingly out of the blue, the name of the wife of a friend. I “caught” those stray thoughts too, and that morning I released the wife’s name to God. It wasn’t my job to know why. But later that day, my friend told me of his wife’s health scare. “She’s much better now,” he said. The stray thought had been an angelic message. Was there a message for me to catch this morning too? Keep at it, I heard. Keep listening. Sometimes listening itself was the prayer, the very same prayer Mom had asked of us kids.

I felt the warmth of the throw, the pushing and pulling in my mind turning into a comfortable silence. I envisioned angels camped around me. There was only one angel in the TV room—at least only one that would be visible when it was time to open my eyes. She sat on a bookshelf, a piece of arts-and-crafts I made as a kid in Sunday school. Mom hadn’t saved the Galilean house built out of painted sugar cubes, collages of crepe paper and yarn, stained-glass ornaments made from resin and chips. But she’d tucked away my hand-carved linoleum wood block used to make our Christmas cards that year. I’d labored to draw the angel and write all the letters of my Christmas greeting in reverse, so that its mirror image would read correctly when stamped on card stock. Now the angel sat on a shelf in a TV room with no TV in it anymore. She reminded me of past, present…and future, all of it in God’s hands. I only had to put it there. I could do that when the noise of everyday life fell away, and I sat still in mind and body. I practiced every morning in hopes of keeping that comfort close at all times.

I got up when the morning’s half-hour session was over, tossing the throw behind me. I glanced at the linoleum block on the shelf, then turned around and looked to where I had been sitting. The throw had landed just like a pair of angel wings. Caught, released, ready to fly with me through the day.

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