“Guess what?” That’s how my seven-year-old son Alex starts almost every conversation. Either that or he says, “Do you want to hear something?” He enthusiastically asks those questions over and over during the course of a day. They’ve become his verbal ticks in a way. I’m not sure he could introduce a new topic without asking them first.
“Guess what?” he asks. “What?” I respond. “Do you want to hear something?” he says. “Sure,” I say. In most cases, the conversation revolves around video games or superheroes. If I’m being completely honest, I’m not always that interested in his chosen topic. And sometimes, I don’t listen fully to his long and winding tales. I “uh-huh” and “really” a lot, both when I’m completely engaged and when I’m not.
Lately, as a joke, my husband, his father, Ben will answer for me upon hearing Alex’s requests for attention. “No, she doesn’t want to hear it,” he will laughingly say. Alex ignores Ben and proceeds with whatever he was going to tell me anyway. He knows Ben is kidding, so he doesn’t take him seriously. Alex does not shut down his conversation based on our reactions. He’s too young to think that we wouldn’t want to listen, and he trusts us as his parents.
As we grow up, though, our experiences with other people may lead us to feel that others do not want to hear our stories or do not truly listen to us when we talk. If we feel unheard about the small matters, then we will be hesitant to share the important things. We may begin to keep our thoughts and words to ourselves if we don’t believe that anyone cares. We start to feel unimportant and unworthy.
Sometimes, I think the hesitancy born out of our relationships with others carries over into our relationship with God. It makes sense that we would see things this way. We are reluctant to pray to God because we worry that God will not want to hear about our issues in the first place or that he won’t truly listen to us when we talk to him. If I can’t listen fully to my son, whom I adore, when he explains all the details about gathering coins on a video game, why do I think God wants to listen to my complaints about work or family or myself for the umpteenth time? How can God wade through my ramblings and figure out the essence of my worries? I have this image of God saying, “Can we get to the point, Tina?”
Deep down, we also doubt we are worthy of God’s attention. We believe that God has more important things to worry about than our problems. We reason that God could not care about minor difficulties when others are sick or dying. One of my dearest friends, who had cancer for ten years before she died, would worry that she was bothering God because there were people starving in developing nations. We compare our issues with other people’s problems and rank them according to their perceived severity.
In so doing, we limit God. We assign our human faults to him. He always listens with rapt attention when we talk to him. This is difficult to grasp. We don’t even deal with constant eye contact well during a personal conversation. We probably couldn’t handle it if another human being gave us the undivided devotion and focused dedication that God does every single time we speak to him. He wants a relationship with us, which is based, in part, on open and honest communication. He does not ignore us or berate us or get tired of us.
And he does not compare us. He does not deem one person worthy of healing and another not or one worthy of success and another not. I just don’t believe it works that way because that would be against God’s nature. He loves all of his beloved children, and we are all his children. He comforts the poor and sick. He hopes that those of us in better conditions (financially, health-wise, with more stability) will help those in need as a response to the love God gives us. Sharing that love with others will hopefully help them further their relationships with God. Maybe if we listen to those who need help, we can restore their views of the way in which God listens to all of us when pray.
I think we should be more like Alex in approaching God. He assumes that he is worthy, that what he has to say is important, and nothing stops him from expressing his views. God believes the same about us and wants to listen. So, the next time each of us prays, maybe start with “Hey God, guess what?”