In the finale dance scene from the movie Strictly Ballroom the music is cut in order to prevent the couple from continuing their dance. Scott, the male main character, remembers Fran’s (the female lead) grandmother encouraging him, “Listen to the Rhythm. Don’t be scared!” He pauses a moment to gather himself and, despite the lack of audible music, the two finish the dance and all those present are in an uproar at the sheer beauty of the performance. This ability to listen in our hearts is the key to being able to follow in the dance.
Step 2: Learning How to Listen
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? – The Summons (Hymn)
First, let’s quickly define what listening looks like.
Creating the spirit of interior and exterior silence and presence that we talked about in the first Step are necessary to hear the whisper of God but it is an entirely different thing to listen to him. We say someone doesn’t listen when we feel they didn’t care what we had to say or when we feel purposefully ignored, misunderstood or misconstrued. This happens also when we are only “selectively” listened to (when someone chooses only to respond to the parts of what we said that they liked or disliked and reject the rest).
This often happens when we decide to give this “dancing thing” a try. We decide are going to try to cut out at least some of the “noise” and busy-ness in our lives in order to better hear God speaking to us. …But when He does, we get scared. We decide that what He wants is too much, too hard. We think that we have already done “so much” by cutting out the noise that God should just appreciate that and not ask us to keep going deeper, to do more. But like the Rich Young Man, we choose not to listen.
Dispositions of Good listeners
- Closeness – When we are close to the Lord we will recognize His voice. Christ says “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they know me” (John 10:27). Are we close enough to Him to truly recognize his voice? To distinguish His stillness from the chaos of the world? (See Step 1 again)
- Openness – The biggest part of learning how to listen to God is recognizing that when we talk to Him and He talks to us, we are having a conversation with a Being outside of ourselves. We cannot control God, no matter how hard we try. Sometimes tend to we think of God as the “voice inside our heads” and if that voice is inside my head than somehow I must be able to control it, but not so! This means that to truly listen we have to be open to hearing something we don’t expect or necessarily even like. We must seek His voice and desire to hear Him.
- Humility – recognize that you aren’t always completely right about everything and that God might actually have a valid point worth listening to. After all, He alone knows how happy His plan will make you.
- Trust – Trust His advice and Act on it. Allow yourself to respond to His suggestions (the ideas you think you came up with while praying). Change whatever stagnant prayer habits you may have.
Practical steps to become better listeners
There are many ways practical ways to hear God speak. For most people God speaks through a plethora of sources that change depending on the moment and the circumstance. Each person will find that God speaks to them through particular methods more than others. It is up to you to find out which methods God uses most to work with you. The following is a list of some of the most common methods you can try to figure out which medium your dance instructor uses to speak to you in particular.
1 Silence – both Exterior and Interior (See First Dance Step)
2 The Scriptures
The scriptures teach us who God is, breaking Him down as simply as God could possibly be broken down, into the different persons of the Blessed Trinity, plus they give explicit instructions on how to become more like Christ and how to hear Him speak.
If you have tried and failed to read the scriptures before, as most of us have, don’t try the same methods you’ve always used, rather, try new ones, such as:
- Jeff Cavins’ Great Adventure series.
- Use a Study Bible that includes questions to help you reflect on the meaning of different passages (there are even ones out there with reflections particularly written for men, women, students, etc).
- Focus on reflecting on the Daily Readings. Did you know that if you reflected on the daily readings for three years (the Catholic Missal is on a three year cycle) you will have read the entire Bible? Also, if you are in tune with the Daily Readings the church year starts to come alive for you. Good resources for this are the Laudate App (free and available on Iphone, Android and Kindle systems) or the Magnificat.
Have you ever read a book that “stirred your soul”? If you have, you will know what I am talking about. Those are the books you want to write in, carry around, sleep with and reread on a regular basis.
There are so many books out there that it would be impossible to read them all. This is why you also have to be discerning when you choose which books to read. Only you know where you are struggling most in your life.
- Pray – Take your needs to prayer, maybe journal a bit about what you most struggle with at this moment in your life
- Research – which book would suit your needs best at this time? Be open and honest with yourself. Don’t always choose titles that you know you are comfortable with and that you will agree with. Those kinds of books, while they may be good, will essentially be a waste of time. Instead choose books that will encourage you and challenge you. Choose books by authors or publishers you trust.
- Find multiple options – ask God, your confessor/spiritual director or other adviser whom you trust which one they recommend and, only then, choose the one that speaks to you.
Not only is it an essential part of dance, but also, music is a tool that speaks to our hearts. Melody puts emotion and meaning to lyrics that words cannot express alone. Our Christian radio station in my area always talks about “that right-song, right-time effect”. I love this because it is so true. So often we can be feeling down and the only thing with the power to bring us up again is the joy and hope that come from hearing a positive song that connects with us and re-centers us on what really matters.
Music is also critical because it is an important element of the dance. It makes us pay attention to the lyrics. The melody is what compels us to enter into the song. It’s what makes us dance. In this dance we are seeking our melody… and God’s love is our song – We just need to listen!
5 Other People
- Obvious sources – He speaks through the selfless advice of parents and/or other authority figures in your life. He can choose to speak to you through your pastor, priest or deacon. He generally speaks very audibly through your confessor or spiritual director. He speaks through the experts we love and respect who have radio programs or travel around giving talks and conferences.
- Less obvious sources – A random, kind stranger at the grocery store who offers you a word of encouragement. A friend complaining about his/her mistakes (encourages us not to make similar ones). Very often too our children also are a source of God speaking to us. Their innocence often gives them a very straightforward relationship with God that is not clouded by adult complications. Because of this it is worth listening respectfully to what they have to say, despite their age.
- Dilemma? – Certainly this doesn’t mean we are supposed to listen to everything everyone else says all the time, right? Correct. It is really only His voice speaking when the person we hear it from doesn’t have a selfish reason for saying it. If there is an ulterior motive behind what was said, then, most often, it probably wasn’t inspired by God.
Note: This is why we too must be careful when trying to “give advice” to others. If we trying to influence them in some way so that we “look good” or receive some benefit from them following our advice, then it is likely that we are not acting as an instrument for God’s voice but rather for our own. We need to be sure that our communication is always pure and loving and that we only heed that which is communicated out of a pure and generous love.
6 Situations and Circumstances
In this category may fall examples of how to choose your career or hobbies. You may think you are doing something good, such as a
particular job, hobby, ministry or volunteer effort but that task might be taking time away from other things that you know you should be dedicating yourself to, such as, your family or God. (See Martha and Mary test) Certain activities eating up your time might be forcing you to compromise your morals or the silence you need to cultivate your relationship with God. These are tell-tale signs that God may be using to drop some not-so-subtle hints that you should reconsider your dedication to whatever is keeping you from your true calling. You could imagine it like trying to sing or dance to a particular melody while a completely different song is playing in the background. It is impossible to find peace this way, even if we claim to love so much the activity that is distracting us from who we are called to be. Don’t be afraid to put all your attention and your focus in this “dance“. It is only when we are undivided that we find unshakable peace.
God never contradicts Himself
This can be a tip to help us discern whether what we are “hearing” is truly coming from God. He would never tell you something today when yesterday He told you something different or vice-versa. God is constant and, as He knows all things, does not have any reason to ever “change His mind”. If two pieces of advice, things you have read, or thought you “heard” conflict, be sure to take time out with God and/or people you trust help you ask for discernment between the two. It might also be helpful to seek confirmation in books, music or circumstances of daily life to help you make the decision of which to follow. When I finally decided to marry my husband after over two years of inner turmoil and overwhelming conflicting advice from friends, parents and confessors, my decision was based on reading the book Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly and the song “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band. I’ve never looked back and would do it all over again in a heartbeat! Only you can know how God speaks to you. All you have to do is be quiet, open and seek Him out to find it!
Other helpful tips and resources
- Hearing His Voice – a meditation by Fr. Al Lauer from Presentation Ministries (April 18, 2016)
- “Hearing God” (pamphlet) from Presentation Ministries
- How to Listen when God is Speaking (book) by Fr. Mitch Pacwa
- How to Listen when God is Speaking (video) EWTN Bookmark with Fr. Mitch Pacwa
- Spending time around good influences in our lives and less time around those people who crowd God out.
- Seek a regular confessor or spiritual director (if you cannot find anyone in your area, spiritual direction is available also through the Pastoral Solutions Institute) for whatever area you are struggling with, including marital issues, addiction issues, parenting issues, etc.
Guidance: G = God, U and I Dance! (Author Unknown)