I believe that good speaking must come from good listening. I believe it and yet I do not practice it nearly enough. I suspect that were I to take the years of research to view and analyze all the times I chose the wrong door I would find, at the beginning, a clear instruction I did not hear, or, accept.
A few months ago I was thinking about Samuel – I think I was supposed to be listening to a presentation at the time which makes what I am about to say a bit of an irony – and realized I could learn about listening from the young acolyte.
When he heard a voice he responded, not with a reply, but, with another question. What I hear is not always what has been said, even, when the words have been clear. “Are you tired?” seems a simple question that calls for many possible responses depending on the context. If asked by your teacher during class, for instance, it would call for an entirely different response than if asked by a mate after the evening meal.
The advice given Samuel to wait for the voice to be clear, as I read the text, reminds me to wait for the person who is talking to me to become clear. Like many I have a tendency to interject my words for the one talking and thus attempt to finish their sentences. A fatal flaw in a marriage and truly irritating in casual conversation. Like the young man I hope to learn to wait to hear if the voice is really for me or if the voice is meant for someone else.
When he wasn't sure what he was hearing he asked a wise counselor. Admittedly this involves an “over time” conversation. Although, I have noticed, with age comes some built in wise counselors. Past voices that speak to me from conversations long ago or books read in other settings. So whether the wise counselor is a voice in my head that sounds eerily like my deceased father or mother, or, a text from scripture, I am wise to listen and place it in the context of the present discussion.
Finally, once the wise counselor spoke Samuel followed the advice. When Samuel final responded to God’s voice it was with the words of his wise counselor. I have wondered that he never mentions that advice or the wisdom of the man under whom he trained. No doubt the parenting skills of Eli had something to do with this, but, I think the main reason is that the wise counselor is not the center of our hearing – but – our willingness to hear from other sources before decisions, or, even, responses.