The sun was shining out of a clear blue sky. My neighbors' wind chimes were tinkling in the gentlest of breezes. A cardinal was tuning up in the horse chestnut tree at the end of the garden. "All's well with the world," I was thinking.
Or was it? Away to my left, I heard a tap-tap-tap, crunch-crunch-crunch in the wooden picket fence. I looked back to see a fluffy squirrel perched precariously on top of one picket, chewing away at the wood vigorously. I shouted and stamped my foot. The squirrel looked down at me and attacked the fence even more fiercely.
I banged the fence, and still the little creature hung there. Suddenly it occurred to me: "Perhaps he's trying to say something to me. If so, am I really listening?"
In the moment of quiet that followed, I noticed one of his front legs had slid down between two slats in the fence. He was trapped. He wasn't being destructive, but trying to bite his way to freedom!
My anger turned instantly to concern. I approached him cautiously, offering quiet words of comfort as I moved into a position allowing me to avoid his claws and teeth and also to pry his trapped leg out of the fence. In a moment he was free. He flew at me, knocking me to the ground, and was gone! A minute or two later I saw him lingering high overhead on a branch, peering down to make sure that I was all right, too. (At least that was my interpretation!) I spoke reassuringly to him, and he soon scuttled away across the treetops.
"So, what have you learned?" I asked myself. And I'm grateful to say the answers came thick and fast. Be alert; listen better; don't jump to conclusions; love more!
When we deal with people, and even when we handle our pets or come across the many other creatures that can chirp, meow, woof, and bleat their way into our lives, we should try to spot what is preoccupying them. Are we cutting through the stream of words or sounds to hear what they are really saying - or not saying?
Another kind of listening is needed at the same time. Our thoughts must be attentive to what God is saying. This is the listening that matters most. Our Father speaks to our innermost feelings with total clarity. God calls very often for a change of direction - for us to be more loving in visible ways.
True listening - listening to God in prayer - inspires us to maintain balance, fairness, compassion, wisdom. It dissolves impatience, frustration, and anger with friends and family members and prepares the ground for our own achievement. It points us to ways of helping and healing ourselves and other people.
Sometimes God's messages bring twinges of discomfort to the surface, or even feelings of resistance. That may not be what we had been hoping to feel! But if we listen for God - with a real readiness to respond to Him - our life can only get better.
Christ Jesus even spoke of us as being like sheep; he used reassuring images of God as the Shepherd. One of these is in the book of John in the Bible: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (10:27, 28).
Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote in a poem: "I will listen for Thy voice,/ Lest my footsteps stray;/ I will follow and rejoice/ All the rugged way" ("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 304). Sheep know their shepherd because they spend time with him. Similarly, we need to spend time with God, finding that His expectations for us come from His deep love and concern for our well-being. That's what He's like. As one saying puts it, "The shove from above always comes with love!"
God consistently urges you to know Him - to gain spiritual insight and understanding. To see yourself as being made perfect by Him - spiritual. And of course to be happy with His unfailing guidance.
The peace you feel as a result of this helps you to care more effectively for yourself and others. It heightens your awareness of calls for help, whether they're from desperate friends or even from furry little creatures that don't really want to make a meal of the garden fence!