When I was earning my living as a journalist, my listening skills were constantly put to the test. When interviewing people, I really had to concentrate and keep my mind from drifting all over the place. And when I listened well, I often learned wonderful and interesting things that might otherwise have gone right past me.
That has often reminded me of how valuable it is to listen attentively to God. One sultry summer evening, my husband and I decided to take a swim to cool off at a beach near our home in Sydney, Australia. When we got out into the ocean, my husband mentioned that he had forgotten to remove his wedding band. We were newlyweds, and our rings were particularly precious. Then a moment later he called out to me that it had slipped off his finger. With the rising current and the impending darkness, the prospect of finding a little gold ring 15 feet below us was not encouraging.
We dove to the ocean floor a few times but couldn't see a thing. However, as is our custom when the going gets tough, we started to pray. Sometimes I've asked myself whether some things are too small to pray about.
In the scale of world problems, this was a minor event. If God were a finite being, it wouldn't seem right to bother him about little things. But God is "the all-hearing and all-knowing Mind, to whom each need of man is always known and by whom it will be supplied" wrote Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 7). Rather than a rehearsal of a laundry list of troubles, prayer can affirm and acknowledge God's goodness, intelligence, and all-power. This kind of prayer is really a state of consciousness to aspire to throughout the day. I'm sure that's what Paul meant when he said to "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17).
So we prayed. We made our way to the shore, and as we were about to step onto the beach, I noticed a scuba diving class emerging from the depths right behind us. Although it was dusk by then, the thought came to me very clearly to ask the instructor if he'd take a look for the missing ring. "I have less than a minute's worth of air left in my tank" he responded good-naturedly. "And the chances of finding it are a million to one, but I'll give it a try." A couple of his students (they'd been learning search and rescue that day) also volunteered to help out.
I felt that the idea to ask the instructor was a kind of angelic direction, a thought from God. The 91st Psalm says, "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways" (verse 11). I feel these thoughts are always coming to us, and our job is to listen.
My husband told me later that the thought that came to him was that the ring represented an idea - his commitment to our marriage - and that could not be lost.
Well, about 59 seconds later, the scuba instructor emerged from the sea, holding a wedding band high above his head. It was lying right next to a shiny soda can top that had attracted his attention. He then read aloud the inscription that I'd had engraved on the inside. We let out a whoop of delight and gratitude.
I don't always listen to God with such remarkable results. But I think one thing that helped me listen in that instance was that I didn't fall into the trap of bemoaning what had happened or blaming my husband. It seems logical that a quiet thought is a receptive thought - one that is prepared to hear God's word.
And thine ears
shall hear a word
behind thee, saying,
This is the way,
walk ye in it,
when ye turn
to the right hand,
and when ye
turn to the left.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor