“I just wish I knew God more,” she said matter-of-factly. “I mean, I know God, but maybe if I knew God like you did, then I would be a bit happier.”
I smiled back at her, not really sure what to say, trying to sift through the theologies she was synthesizing in her comments. There were a few moments of silence, no more than ten seconds, after which she took a deep breath and sighed, “I just want to feel God.”
While this particular congregant’s woes are distinct to her story, her desire is something that is often echoed throughout Scripture, as well as in many current conversations in the church. There’s a deep longing to connect with God, for our desires to be fulfilled through God. And from what it seems like in our current reality, there are a lot of people who want to experience some sort of deep rest with God.
But ask anyone, and it seems like rest is the last thing possible in the relentless schedules of our days, weeks, months, and years. It would seem that we have grown up with a “go, go, go” mentality in which we have been measured by productivity for as long as we can remember. In schools we are measured with tests, in families we are compared with other family members, in friend groups we’re measured on whether we’re good enough, and in society we are met with an endless list of standards and expectations.
It’s all too much.
It seems like we can’t escape these expectations and unrealistic ideals anywhere we turn. Some of us turn to the church, hoping for refuge and maybe even a dose of peace. But we find, as from the passage today, that we are confronted with the jargon of “obey” and “diligently observe.”
I thought I was doing too much, God, but now I have to do more?
In taking a look at the original language to gain some clarity, we find that the word translated as “obedience” is “shama.” Shama, while sometimes translated as “obedience,” is also translated “to hear,” “to listen,” and “to understand.”
Could it be that obedience might also mean that hearing, listening, and understanding are involved? Is it possible that to be obedient, or “to obey,” would include stopping, breathing slower, and becoming aware of what is before you? Could this passage mean that obedience might require us to be still? That to “obey the Lord your God” might mean listening or hearing God?
Listening to God could mean a whole host of things, as if this verse were opening up a paradoxical Pandora’s Box. What does it mean to listen to God? What does that look like (or sound like)?
I’m not here to give a normative answer to this question, because I think that every person can listen to God in various ways. However, I do think that a key aspect of listening to God, to truly hearing God, begins with the invitation to silence. An invitation to quiet your surroundings, to release your inner critic, to give yourself a break from strategizing, and to simply be. To simply be with the one who has created you, who has been with you since your first breath, and has called you “Beloved” at every moment.
Obedience doesn’t necessarily begin with going out into the world; it might begin with a deep inhale of rest and an exhale of “Here I am.” Maybe it will take some practice to get into this rhythm of grace. And, it might take time to undo some other rhythms. But maybe as you lean in, listen, and open yourself up to the one who was, is, and always is open to you, “…all these blessings shall be upon you and overtake you…” (v.2a).