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Time to listen

Summer employment takes a unique form as this author listens for, and hears, what God wants for her.

From the May 17, 2010 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

ONE OF MY RECENT READS is titled, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker Palmer (San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass, 2000). On page 4, the author states: "Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about—quite apart from what I would like it to be about."

This has rung true for me throughout my life, and my study of Christian Science has shown me how to put this concept into practice through prayer as deep listening. Whenever I've made plans for my career, they've usually resulted in a completely different and unexpected opportunity that could have come only from sincere listening to God. I learned at a very early age that prayer in Christian Science was not about asking God for new toys or a pet, but that it was about listening to hear God speaking to me. But how to discern between thoughts that are coming from God and other thoughts, perhaps well intentioned but willful, has been a continual discovery.

One experience during college stands out as an example, when a job I had expected fell through. When the voices of disappointment, confusion, fear, and doubt were silenced, the spiritual sense or divine intuition that had always been present, guiding and directing my path, was heard.

Standing in my hostel, I hung up the phone and began praying. I'd just been given the disappointing news that I no longer had paid work for the summer. I was in a foreign country with very little money remaining, and a return plane ticket set for three months away. It was my summer break from college, and I needed to work to pay for part of my tuition the following fall. My parents had recently been divorced and didn't have the means to help me out financially at that point, so asking them for money didn't seem like a viable option. I'd been abroad for the past semester and planned to stay in the country to continue to learn the language. This new turn of events was not welcome!

But I'd been learning so much about God during my time overseas, and something in me kept saying that this was just an opportunity to prove what I'd been learning in Christian Science. I knew prayers weren't just positive thinking, but that they could tangibly lead me to the provision one needs.

Being away from home, I'd been doing a lot of listening in prayer, relying more and more on God as my source of supply, comfort, and companionship. Studying the Christian Science Bible Lesson had been especially helpful to me. The day I received the discouraging phone call, I'd just read this passage: "As for me, I will behold thy face inrighteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (Ps. 17:15). I'd written in my journal that morning: "I want to know this kind of satisfaction. How can I awake and see God?"

Journaling has always been a help to me in silencing the thoughts that try to distract from inspiration, or God's voice speaking. It helps organize thought to focus on spiritual ideas, rather than on distractions. And so each day while I was abroad, I wrote down passages from the Bible or from the writings of Mary Baker Eddy and then practiced applying their messages in daily life. I'd been working on memorizing some of the statements so I would have them as tools whenever I needed them, wherever I was. One of those passages was from Psalms: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me" (139:7–11).

I realized that wherever I would be for the next three months, I couldn't possibly be separated from God—that no one anywhere exists without God's love and care. And while I really wanted to outline exactly how my summer would unfold, I knew this concern was secondary to the sincere desire to witness God's promises proved true for me and for everyone.

The pivotal moment came when affirming God's allness helped quiet my fear, so I was able to listen to new inspiration. Instead of brooding in my hostel over what felt like a lost opportunity, there was a clear sense that I needed to get up and go to the Wednesday evening service at a local Christian Science church. Afterward, I was invited to go out with some of the church members, and one of them asked me where I would be staying that night. When I mentioned I wasn't sure, she insisted I come back and stay with her family. This offer turned into a place to live for the rest of my stay in the country, and the generosity this family showed me then is an impetus for my own giving today.

In this family's home, I gladly volunteered to help out however I could, such as with chores or meal preparations. For the first time in my life, I wasn't working nonstop, and I found increased time for study and prayer—an added blessing. Instead of being fearful about not having a regular income, I found that the peace I was gaining from my study and quiet time felt even more valuable than what I could earn financially.

For me, being God's expression came to mean we include all the qualities requisite to meet the needs of every moment. Mary Baker Eddy wrote in her seminal work, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, "We must look deep into realism instead of accepting only the outward sense of things" (p. 129). Looking deeper means identifying the problem correctly, not merely seeing our challenges as a human problem needing a solution that God will provide, but instead seeing each challenge as a call to discover the work God has already done. Acknowledging the answer is already there has power to bring our thoughts into alignment with possibilities we hadn't considered before. This helps identify our lives from the basis of what is strong instead of what is weak, what is given instead of what is lacking, what is successful instead of what has failed.

Being away from home, I'd been doing a lot of listening in prayer, relying more and more on God as my source of supply, comfort, and companionship.

Prayer, as deep listening and putting aside willfulness, enables us not to just cling to empty hopes for supply, but also orients consciousness to feel at one with Spirit as true substance. Just as the children of Israel were given manna in their wandering through the wilderness, God is our true source of supply and sustenance. While I didn't know what the day would bring when I went to that Wednesday evening church meeting, the sense of assurance I gained from trusting God and listening for His voice taught me the answer would be made clear. And as in the case of staying with the church family, the answer was much better than I ever could have planned on my own.

Praying for my own financial situation and well-being was also a call to understand global issues more spiritually. The Apostle Paul assured the Corinthians, "I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want,that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality" (II Cor. 8:13, 14). A definition of abundance includes the words prosperity and plentifulness. When our prayers begin with thanking God for His abundance, we move beyond seeing ourselves or others as victims of circumstance. Whatever our bank account states, there are many ways we can reflect abundance, such as overflowing with a desire to be a good listener (both to God and others!), or helping care for a friend or neighbor in need.

When I returned to school in the fall, not only had I been blessed by my gracious hosts and the insights I'd gained staying with them that summer, but my mother also relocated and began work in a new city, which helped her move forward financially. Back on campus, I found an extra job, and the additional work wasn't ever a burden, because I knew God had been guiding me. Most valuable of all, though, was the practice I'd had that summer of learning to listen to God's voice more deeply and consciously, and to put aside human will. Many things changed for me that following year, but what remained constant was this new confidence in trusting that listening to God could bring me through anything.

Whenever I've found myself at different times in my life either without consistent work or having to accept a job that didn't seem to match all I had to offer, I've appreciated the opportunity to focus my thoughts less on the task at hand and more on the ideas from my morning spiritual study. Often, I'd become curious about an idea, and couldn't wait until I had a break during the day to go and look up a passage or finish reading a chapter in Science and Health. And repeatedly, what seemed at first like a dead end would turn into something much more wonderful than I could have imagined—it just took a little patience and perseverance in trusting and thanking God for the fullness and completeness of His provision, even before receiving it.

Beginning with a listening prayer, from a standpoint of abundance, means refusing to see ourselves as either disenfranchised by inadequate income or overburdened. Affirming we're satisfied with what God is showing us means we all can hear the messages of wisdom that God pours out for us, continuously. ♦

Larissa Snorek-Yates currently applies these insights in her work with graduate students in the United States as well as during her frequent travels to African countries.

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