listening

Your Attention Please

I got stopped in my tracks this week. Stopped cold.

Target knows what they're doing. That dollar section right inside the doors is both a blessing and a curse to parents everywhere. The curse is that your children are dying to go there and to spend inordinate amounts of time poring over novelty band-aids, cartoon-themed pencils, and super balls. The blessing is that everything is only a dollar, so it isn't too much of a sacrifice to get the kids something now and then. They're happy, and you're happy for having made them happy even if it only lasts as long as the car ride home.

A few months ago the big discovery from this treasure trove was a tiny Angry Birds notebook. Finnden had recently become rather enamored with Angry Birds on my phone, so he was quite smitten with this miniaturized notebook. Little did we know how much joy would be derived from our one-dollar find.

For two weeks he took it everywhere he went—the park, the grocery store, and on walks. There were times when he'd be playing in the other room and we'd suddenly notice that the house had gone quiet… never a good sign. We'd go searching for him, sure to find some disaster around the next corner only to discover him sitting cross-legged on our orange couch in the living room, pretending to write in his "journal." He'd color in it, pretend to read from it, and was known once or twice to say "let me check my calendar" as he flipped through the pages.

In time though, as all things do, it lost it's treasure-status and floated aimlessly from this bin of toys to that. Soon it seemed forgotten.

Then came Friday.

We had just laid Finn down for a nap. Next thing we know he had marched himself across the hall and was standing in the doorway of our room.

"Can I help you?" I asked. "We need to find my Angry Bird notebook," he answered. "Oh, do we?" "Yes." "Well," I told him, "we'll have to look for it later. Right now it's time for your nap." He sighed. "Okay. But as soon as I get up we need to find it." "Okay."

Two hours later I went to wake him and found him sitting on the end of his bed staring at the wall. It was impossible to tell how long he'd been there like that. When he sensed me in the doorway he looked up at me.

"We need to find my Angry Birds notebook now."

And so we set about doing just that. We looked high and low together. Finally, after emptying nearly every item out of one particularly cluttered closet we uncovered that hidden treasure once more. He was elated. With Karen's help he immediately perched himself on a stool at the kitchen counter, and with marker in hand began re-coloring every page.

Twenty minutes later Karen and I realized we needed to run some errands. As we prepared to leave the house I asked Finn to go find his shoes. I'm sure I heard him say, "Okay." Five minutes later I walked back into the kitchen to find he hadn't moved.

"Finn." Nothing. "Finn!" He looked up from scribbling in his notebook. "Huh?" "Go get your shoes on."

This time I made sure to watch him as he got down from the stool and sauntered into the hallway toward his room. A minute later I came looking for him again only to find him watching himself flip through the pages of his notebook in the hallway mirror.

"Finn!" "Huh?" "Shoes." "Oh, sorry daddy."

I glared at him as he wandered into his room and sat on the edge of his bed, still engrossed in his silly notebook.

"Finn, put the notebook down right now, and put on your shoes!" He did. Eventually.

I told him to head to the garage and get himself in the car. But of course, I walked into the garage a few moments later to find him leaning up against the side of the car with the notebook open in his hands, and he was singing as if it were a songbook. I snatched it from his hands. He looked at me ready to protest, but he saw immediately that my patience was gone.

As we drove away from the house there was a tremendous amount of unspoken frustration aimed at the backseat. I had heard his request. I had helped him hunt high and low. And when he'd gotten what he wanted my voice had become some kind of ignore-able buzz in his ears. Then there was a buzz in my head, a voice that was in direct contrast to the thoughts I was thinking. It asked me: Are you any different?

A few weeks ago there was a particular question that I asked of God. I didn't ask it just once. I was persistent. And I was insistent on having an answer. I went to him again and again. I implored him hour after hour. And he answered me. But the way that he answered me was slow. It wasn't just an answer, it was a series of insights into his heart and my own. He helped me empty out some cluttered closets, and he reminded me of some of the things he'd been stock-piling for me there over the last few years.

But afterward I wasn't really looking anymore. I'd gotten what I'd come for. And while I'm quite sure he had a lot more to say, new places to take me and insights to give, I think I stopped paying attention.

I Can't Hear You When I'm Talking

My son is by no means immune to logic…at least no more than the next two-and-a-half-year-old. If he can stop squirming long enough to listen, he’s often able to comprehend the whys and why-nots of a given situation. “No, Finn, I don’t want you to poke the dog in the eye. Yes, I know you think it’s funny, but would you want her to poke you in the eye? No? Then you probably shouldn’t do it.”

He gets it. But again, the key is getting him to sit still long enough to listen to logic. If he can’t or won’t listen, things go downhill fast.

Lately, his greatest joy has been kicking around a soccer ball in the front yard. He runs after it, squealing and giggling. He lines it up just right. He announces, “I kick it.” And then he proceeds to do just that. Then the running and squealing and giggling begin again.

Just the other day I asked him if he wanted to go out front and kick the soccer ball. Before I had even finished asking the question he was at the front door, twisting the doorknob with both little hands, saying, “Go kick. Go kick!” But before we could go outside I needed him to put on his shoes. Logical, right? Well, this is one of those examples where logic fails because he’s just not hearing it. The conversation went something like this:

Finn: Go kick! Me: Yup, we’re going to go play with the ball, but first I need you to get your shoes and… Finn: Go kick! Me: I know, and we will, but… Finn: (with concern) Kick? Me: Mm-hmm, but… Finn: (growing desperate) Please? Me: Yeah, buddy, we will but your shoes… Finn: (the tears are filling his eyes) Please go play? Me: Yeah, just put on…

And then it’s over. He’s beside himself. It’s not really a tantrum. He’s not demanding his way. But suddenly he believes that what he’s been promised will not happen, that the thing he’s pleading for is going ignored. It’s absolute, crushing, and pitiful disappointment.

The logic was sound. The answer was there. He just couldn’t listen.

But this “not listening thing” is not just the territory of two-year olds. We do the same thing, and often we do it with God. There have been many times when I have made my questions known to God, when I have pleaded, when I have demanded justice, or answers, or clarity. And then I have just kept on pleading and demanding and the like. I haven’t stopped to take a breath, much less listen.  Then I conclude that God doesn’t have an answer for me or that he hasn’t been listening when, really, I’m the one who hasn’t been listening.

Habakkuk shows us another way. He does his fair share of questioning and pleading and demanding justice, but then he stops and he listens. He asks his questions, and then he waits; he waits intently and with purpose.

I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Habakkuk 2:1

You get this image of Habakkuk standing on the highest point of the city walls, face to the wind, squinting against the sun, eyes scanning the horizon, awaiting a messenger who might come at any moment. He is quiet, but he is expectant and searching. And he gets his answer. And while it may not be the answer he was hoping for, he has had a conversation with God. He has heard the logic of heaven above.