How well do we really listen to the Lord?
As I was reading 3 Nephi 11:3-6 it struck me that there are varying degrees and ways of listening. I'm sure there are just as many corresponding ways of being blessed depending on our level of attentiveness.
The Nephites had just been through the most traumatic experience possible- total darkness for three days in combination with earthquakes, fires, whirlwinds and floods. The complete darkness alone would have been scary, but with all the additional natural disasters happening simultaneously, it would have been downright terrifying, especially to those who had paid no heed to the prophecies.
I can only imagine the grief and terror of the survivors. To have your entire world thrown into chaos while being in total darkness for three days would be horrible. But the Lord didn't leave them entirely comfortless. He spoke to them in the darkness to remind them of His commandments and His desire to extend mercy to them. I think it's incredible that the people were silent for the space of many hours after this. No one discussed what they heard, no one was distracted by the conditions around them (I believe this was still during the period of darkness.) This gave them the opportunity to just sit and ponder the words of Christ. To let them sink in and to look within to see if they believed. As they did so their mourning, weeping and wailing ceased and they were filled with joy, their sorrow turned to thanksgiving to the Lord. They were blessed for listening.
As the darkness lifted the people gathered at the temple and were marveling at the changes that had taken place. It doesn't specify whether they were amazed solely by the change in the terrain or whether they were also considering the change in themselves, but I'd like to think it was some of both. They were talking to one another about Christ and the signs of His coming, which they had been witness to. As they were conversing they heard a small voice that "did pierce them that did hear to the center," but they didn't understand what it was saying. They were probably more than a little distracted by their conversations and by trying to take in everything around them. They then heard the voice a second time but still didn't understand it. BUT.. the third time they heard the voice they "did open their ears to hear it; and their eyes were towards the sound thereof; and they did look steadfastly towards heaven, from whence the sound came."
Right here, I think, is the key. They not only heard but also actively opened their ears (paid attention and listened) and also turned their eyes to the source of the sound.
When we hear the spirit speaking to us, do we continue on in our conversations and daily routines.. does it take three or more times for us to stop and pay attention? I think of it like the varying ways we listen to others. I think we can all relate to the experience of "listening" to someone who is just rambling on and on, or whose conversation isn't nearly as interesting as they think it is (think of times you've been listening to a child, spouse or friend and your responses are half-hearted "yep, un-hunh, un-hunh, yep" because your attention isn't really on what they're saying.) Contrast that with how intently you would listen if you had a life threatening condition and the only way to be saved is to listen to the instructions of your doctor and follow them exactly.
There are huge differences in levels of hearing, listening, and paying attention. When we are only partially paying attention to a conversation we are likely to be losing eye contact, letting our thoughts wander, and not really hearing half of what is being said. We could miss out on important information or signals. But when we are totally tuned in to someone else we find ourselves wanting to listen, focusing on them, and working to really understand what they're trying to convey to us.
If, like in my example above, we were receiving instructions from a doctor on how to save our own lives, we would likely meet with them in a quiet room, focus our attention solely on what he had to say, and write down everything we could. We would be doing our best to memorize as much of his counsel as possible and then follow through by doing things exactly.
So why isn't listening to the Lord just as important to us? Are our souls not worth as much effort to save as our bodies might be? I think we too easily forget that our bodies and this life are just temporary. It's our soul that is immortal and that is in the most danger. Our spirits need healing far more than our bodies ever will.
Often, when I've read or heard something that touches my heart, I find myself too quickly being distracted. I want to hold on to the feeling of the spirit speaking to me, but often I'm drawn away by the cares and desires of this world. I love hearing our prophet and apostles speak and am often touched by their counsel. But all too soon that feeling fades and I find myself caught up in trying to keep up with my everyday life. I have to make a real effort to take the time to sit in the quiet and ponder. To really open my ears and my heart and listen closely to what I don't hear when I'm distracted. I have to keep my gaze heavenward, towards the source of all knowledge and power if I want to be blessed with His guidance.
We all need to learn to take time to find a quiet place to really talk to God and more importantly, to listen to what He's trying to tell us. This is becoming more and more challenging as our world revolves around noise, busyness, work, entertainment, and distractions. We are surrounded by opinions and viewpoints on the best ways to solve this or that problem. But in the end, only Christ's instructions have the power to help us eternally. His only goal is to save us, and it's only through Him that we can have the peace that we cannot find in this world.
Jesus Christ is our physician and our healer. But- He isn't going to come to our house, screaming and yelling, pushing us to stop this harmful habit or forcing us to start a life-saving treatment. He'll speak to us in a quiet voice. Asking us to stop and listen. Pleading with us to focus on Him and thereby gain eternal life.