Persistent Listening

We had a beautiful Taize service in my parish the other night. The reflection was offered by my friend Lynn, the parish’s Faith Formation Supervisor. The readings she selected to accompany the music focused on prayer and included today’s Gospel reading, the passage in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow.

Lynn told a beautiful personal story to illustrate persistence that ended with a description of God as a “persistent listener.” And I think there is a lot of truth in that. God does listen persistently, often patiently waiting for us to figure out what it is that we really are asking of God and how to ask it.

What struck me more powerfully, however, was the need for us to be persistent listeners. That is, I think the lesson we tend to take from today’s Gospel is that if we just ask over and over again, God will give us what we want. If we can just be as nagging to God as the widow was to judge in the parable, we’ll get exactly what we ask for. The problem with that way of thinking about it is that people tend to interpret it literally and then say something like, “Well I asked God over and over again to heal x from her illness and God didn’t do it.”

But if we spend all our attention focusing on our persistent requests, we can’t hear what God is telling us. We don’t notice God’s efforts to help us see what it is that we really want and the ways in which He is answering our prayers. The problem is not on God’s side – God is quite persistent and communicates constantly with us. We need to be as persistent in our listening as God is trying to communicate with us.