A few years ago I went on my oldest son’s Confirmation retreat with him. At the beginning of the retreat the leader asked the kids to write on a rock something that was holding them back in their relationship with God. They were asked to carry around that rock throughout the retreat. At the end of the weekend they threw their rocks into a lake as a symbol that they were ridding themselves of the stumbling block that kept them from connecting with God. In its place they received a new rock. This one had a different word etched into it. Some of the rocks said family; some said love; some faith; some trust. There were many different words. As I threw my rock into the lake (yes, I wanted to participate too!) and reached into the bag for my word I secretly wished for family or love. Those were the two most important things in my life and I wanted that to be reflected in the word etched into my rock. Instead I drew a rock inscribed with the word “HARMONY”. To be honest, not only was I confused, but I was disappointed too. I had no idea why God felt I would need to focus on “harmony”.
Fast forward three years and I am in almost the exact same situation… I am at my daughter’s Confirmation retreat and we are getting ready to throw away that rock which holds a word signifying the obstacles we are encountering in our relationship with God. However, this time I asked if I could talk to the kids before they chose a new rock. I told them of my confusion the first time I was on this retreat and reached in for my rock; how I had no idea why I would need to focus on harmony in my life. I told them that it would become clear though later as turmoil reared its ugly head within a few of my relationships. God knew I was going to be facing a battle and that by focusing on harmony I would be able to make it through to the other side. There were times I swallowed my words in favor of keeping the peace and times that I smiled when I wanted to cry. I tried to be friends with those who had hurt me when really I just wanted to scream and point out all of their flaws. But through it all I prayed and focused on that one word- harmony. I would hold that rock in my hand many times, turning it over and over again, running my fingers along the letters of the word etched into its hard surface. I would pray while I held it and ask God to help me achieve harmony. He did. While I didn’t tell the kids the whole story I did tell them that the word “harmony” was exactly what I needed and that the word they were going to soon hold in their hands would be what God needed them to hear as well.
All too often we talk without listening. We reach into that bag of rocks, hoping to pull out one with a word etched into it especially for us, and then we fail to read it! We pray and tell God our needs and yet we never allow Him time to answer us. But God speaks to us all the time. Why don’t we quiet our hearts and listen? Are we just too hurried and so much of a “me” society that we feel the answers need to come within our specified time frame? Do we hear the answer but don’t like what He has said so we ignore Him and demand a different response? Do we think that God needs to answer us the way He answered our friends’ requests and prayers? We need to figure out what God is telling us. What I may hear is not necessarily what He needs to say to you.
There can also be times that we desire a particular answer so badly we will look for signs that what we want is what God is going to give us. We say we want to hear God but we hear what we want to hear. We see what we want to see. Unfortunately, hearing what we want to hear instead of what we need to hear is not going to do us any good. God’s plans are infinitely better than anything we can imagine. He knows what we need before we do. He provides for those needs and gives us answers to help us through but we have to be willing to accept what He presents to us. We have to hold that rock in our hand and read the word inscribed on it. We have to run our fingers over those letters and get to know everything about our rock and the word it holds. We have to understand that this rock, this word, is meant for us and us alone.
This year as I withdrew my stone I was anxious to read what it said. I flipped it over and smiled, “FRIENDS”. There are several ways I think God is calling me to a closer relationship with Him through my friends… by forgiving past hurts; by being a better friend to those I love; by being there for those who need a friend but perhaps don’t have any. I’m not sure exactly what God is asking of me in my friendships but I do know that through prayer and active listening He will make sure I know exactly why I drew this stone and where I need to focus my love and energy.
Do you hear what I hear? Probably not. God’s message for you is more than likely much different than what He needs me to hear right now. He knows exactly what we need to work on and what is hindering our relationship with Him. Ask Him where you need to focus your love and energy. He will show you. Just be ready to sit quietly to hear Him in case He decides to whisper it in your ear instead of etching it on a stone.