One of the results of the Covid-19 quarantine is that our family has many more meals together. In normal times, we try to have as many family meals as possible, but it’s hard because we have so many activities scheduled. On any given night, we might have dance class, karate, soccer or basketball practices. Lately though, all six of us have been home constantly, and while each of us grabs breakfast individually upon waking up, we sit at the table for both lunches and dinners. For the most part, it’s been a good change to have this extra family time at meals, but it’s not always idyllic. In fact, mealtimes can be boisterous to say the least.
All four of the children have many, many things to say, and frequently, they feel the need to say those things at the exact same time. And, in order to be heard, they raise their voices. They get loud. They talk over each other, which makes the conversation grow even louder. Inevitably, Ben or I will tell them to quiet down. Of course, in order for the children to hear us, we must talk loudly as well, only adding to the noise.
At times, I’ve noticed that someone will feel upset that no one listens to him or her. The sadness in their eyes gives it away. As parents, we will stop the conversation and allow the neglected child to talk. But we aren’t perfect in granting each person equal time to speak. On occasion, the discussion can turn ugly. One child will try to silence another by barking, “shut up” or hurling some other insult. This starts a back and forth exchange, in which Ben or I must intervene. They compete for attention. They clamor for recognition. If they can get another person to listen, they feel affirmed. If they don’t feel heard, they will talk louder and louder until they are almost shouting.
To me, our table feels like a microcosm of the world these days. Many of us talk as loudly as possible, screaming over one another, not listening to each other, and then the insults roll off the tongue with ease. We fight but feel unheard. We worry about scarcity, so we forcefully demand our share. We argue and insist on being right because to be wrong means we must admit failure or offer an apology. And to say we’re sorry exposes us to too much vulnerability. We desperately crave recognition because we want to feel worthy and loved. The holes in our hearts and souls push us to shriek for attention and ignore the cries of others seeking the same.
Yet, God does not require us to shout others down or yell the loudest for him to hear us. We don’t need to compete for God’s attention, although I don’t know how God does it. The scene from the movie Bruce Almighty comes to mind when millions of prayers inundate his email in record time. I’ve watched people go about their travels in crowded airports and thought about how God could listen to every single one of us at that exact moment. It’s baffling for our minds, but I believe that God listens to all of us at any given time. When God taught us to pray, he didn’t say take a number and wait in line. He didn’t tell us that only those with power or money or social significance could approach him in prayer. We don’t have to “win” the argument before God will listen. We don’t need to scream.
I wonder what would happen if we believed God when he says he will listen to us. Could we take a calming breath and rest in the assurance that God loves us and finds us worthy? We wouldn’t have to beat all the people with our words or our fists to find value in God’s eyes. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is when God tells Elijah to go out to the mountain and wait for God to approach. First, there is a strong wind that shatters rock followed by an earthquake and then a fire, but God is not found in any of those powerful elements. Finally, there is a gentle whisper, and Elijah knows God is speaking. I Kings 19:11-13. If God can speak in a whisper, then maybe we can lower our voices with one another and approach God knowing he hears us when we speak.
God is the source of our value and worth. If we can believe that God loves us and gives us his full attention, then maybe we can stop the shouting and better live in peace and harmony.