Listening for God for Families
One of the ways we can all learn to be better listeners for God is to slow ourselves down, and simply pay more attention to precisely where we are and what is happening right now – around us and inside us. This is called mindfulness. Here are some very simple, quick things that will help you relax, stay focused and keep going when you get tired and frustrated. We will practice one exercise for one full week and then work on a new one.
First day – Fiind a quiet place where you can sit quietly. Settle your body. Feel where your body touches the floor.
Sit straight up, relaxed but upright. Notice your breath, in and out. Notice how the in feels different from the out. Notice how one breath feels slightly different from the next.
Imagine your belly filling up like a balloon as you breath in and getting smaller as you breath out.
Try exhaling slowly, maybe count to three or four. You don’t have to count but just breath in very slowly and out very slowly.
Practice anytime you feel upset, or frustrated or angry. Step aside from what is making you upset, angry or frustrated – even if you are sitting on a school bus, just close your eyes for a minute, allow yourself time to calm down and notice your breathing. It only takes 1 minute.
Second Day– There was a man who lived a long time ago name Henry David Thoreau. He wrote, that while he was walking around his pond, “ The thought of some work will run into my head, and I am not where my body is…What business have I in the woods if I am thinking of something out of the woods.” Does this ever happen to you? I know it happens to me A LOT. Here is a little exercise to help us come back to where we are.
Begin sitting or standing, it doesn’t matter. Once you have settled where you are, raise your hands in front of your chest with your hands about 10 inches apart.
Very slowly bring your hands together toward the middle, pausing the minute you feel any warmth, or energy, or anything that might feel a little tingly.
Continue to bring your hands together until your fingertips are touching very lightly.
Then keep bringing your hands together until your palms touch. Notice how your fingers straighten. Notice how your hands feel touching each other.
Then raise your elbows up and press your hands together fairly hard (unless that hurts) and count to five.
Then lower your elbows and relax your shoulders to let go of the tension. Maybe even roll your shoulders around a bit.
Anywhere you still feel like some part of you might be someplace else, try breathing right into that place to bring all of you back into the place where you are standing.
Third Day – Sometimes we just get overwhelmed with bad feelings, or we get stuck thinking about something that makes us unhappy or that we wish was different, or we wish we could do or be something other than what we are – we all do that sometimes, and it can make you feel pretty awful. This is a quick exercise to break out of that cycle.
Take a minute and really look all around you. Imagine you could be aware, with all of your senses of everything you see, hear, smell, and touch (taste might be a little harder, but if you can great!)
Really concentrate on all the details – what things feel like, the precise colors, the shapes – all the people, and animals, the plants and the earth itself and all of well the stuff people make.
Find one specific thing out of all that stuff that makes you happy, that makes you feel better. It might be the particular color of the sky that is your favorite. Or a smell that reminds you of something you love. If you find more than one thing that’s terrific.
Just give yourself a minute to really enjoy that thing. Take a mental picture of that thing and save it in your “things that make me happy” file in your brain.
When you get really good at this, try noticing one thing you really love every time you walk through a door way or into a new place.
Fourth Day – Have you ever gotten really mad and said some stuff you wish you hadn’t. Don’t worry, we all have. While it is important and good to let people know how you feel, often it’s better to wait until those really strong feelings have passed so you can tell the person calmly. When we get that upset, it can be really hard to know WHY we are upset. This is an exercise to help us name how we feel.
First, if you possibly can, get away from who or whatever is upsetting you. Just the other side of the room will do.
Take three slow, quiet breaths to help you calm down.
Think of the word, or a word for how you feel – name the emotion. Are you mad, frustrated, feel like someone has treated you unfairly, are you jealous? What do you feel? This helps you use your thinking mind instead of your feeling mind – you are taking your brain back from the emotions that hi-jacked it. It will help you start to calm down immediately.
Name any other emotions that may be along for the ride, like if you are mostly jealous, but that made you mad or made you feel like you were being treated unfairly.
Where do you feel the emotions? I usually feel strong emotions in my throat. Some people feel them in their stomachs. Some people get headaches. Some people’s mouths get dry. Where is your body reacting to how you feel?
Finally, think about what you might do differently if this same kind of thing happens again. How can you keep your brain from getting completely hi-jacked by your emotions? It’s like learning to play chess, you learn to respond differently to the same situation.
Listening for God for Parents
In her book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton spends a chapter talking about the importance of paying attention, or listening for God. One of the examples she uses is Exodus 3:2-3, “ There an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, I must turn aside and look at this great thing.” How many times during our lives, even during our daily life are we presented with God calling out to us but we don’t take the time to “turn aside and look at this great sight.” She goes on to quote an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem,
“ Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –
The rest sit around a pluck blackberries.”
Seeing the bush afire does mean keeping our eyes and ears, but more importantly our hearts and minds open and alert to God’s presence all around us; and to our being ready and willing to stop and spend that moment in God’s presence.
Let something essential happen to me now,
Something like the blooming of hope and faith,
Like a grateful heart,
Like a surge of awareness
Of how precious each moment is
That now, not next time
Now is the occasion
To take off my shoes,
To see every bush afire…”
Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace
Listening for God for Kids
When we pray, we should both be talking to God and listening to God. But how does God speak to us? Clearly God doesn’t call us on the phone, or send a text or email. But God does speak to us, all the time in fact if we open our eyes, our ears but most importantly our hearts and our minds.
Traditionally one of the clearest ways that God speaks to us is through Scripture, through the stories in the Bible. We think of the Bible as, “the revealed Word of God”, or one of the ways God chooses to explain who God is, how much God loves us and how God hopes we will love each other and the natural world.
God also reveals God’s self in the natural world – what on earth ( pun intended) do you mean Mrs. Hayes? Have you ever gone outside on a clear, cold winter night and gazed up at the billions of stars and been amazed by the beauty and the giganticness and how far away things are? That is God revealing God’s self in God’s sheer power and creativity. How about when you made and realized that you had a real, honest to goodness very good friend for the first time? You may have been deeply thankful and again amazed at what you now had. That is God revealing God’s self in our relationships with other people. How about when for whatever reason you realized just how much you love your mom and dad? That is God revealing God’s self in our families.
It also happens sometimes with art, with music, with exercise and probably many other things I can’t think of right now. God says in lots of different ways – I love you so much that you saw this, or experienced that, or did this or felt that – and this is what I hope you can show other people about me.
God doesn’t shout often, like AFTER the thunder, AFTER the wind and AFTER the earthquake and AFTER the fire God spoke to Elijah in a gentle whisper. Sometimes it takes thunder, and wind, and earthquakes and fire to get our attention, but then God whispers. Let’s ready to hear and listen for God so we can skip the thunder, and earthquakes and fire