By Anne McCracken

Learning to Listen

I had a list. There were people that needed prayer and situations for which I needed answers. This was probably why God called me to retreat from my busy life for 24 hours—24 beautifully quiet hours at a place where all I could hear was a roaring creek—so that I could pray without interruption. I had two little boys at home, and it was pretty much impossible to even think one thought through from beginning to end, let alone concentrate on praying.

Only a few weeks before, my dear friend told me she was going away on a week-long retreat, just to be with Jesus. The idea struck me with strong emotion. Crying silently on the other end of the phone, I imagined how God must feel to know that she wanted to spend that much time just with him. I realized then that I wanted to spend special time with him too. But a week seemed absolutely impossible for me. Even one day was a stretch.

I started to pray for just one day that I could go away somewhere to just be with Jesus. I had no idea when or where, and we didn’t have much money to spare. But it was amazing how quickly a plan came together.

My husband found out about an empty room in one of the residence houses of the International Christian school where we worked. This house was on the side of a mountain, way up a winding road in the Black Forest of Germany. We found a day that my husband could be home with the boys, and before I knew it, there I was in this gorgeous, peaceful, quiet place—alone with God.

After settling in, I got right to it. I did the usual: reading my list to God, inserting scripture when I thought of it, asking him to help this situation, heal that person, and to please give me patience with that other person. But as I talked to God, which was more like leaving a message on his voicemail, I sensed something new. It was a strong sense of His presence, and with that, an impression that though He was listening politely and carefully to my list, he wanted to tell me something he was excited about. He wanted to change the subject, and that was new to me. So God and I took a walk.

As we walked slowly through the ancient forest together, I felt the weight of his presence like never before. It was nearly a physical feeling—his nearness, his hands on my shoulders. I felt very small, totally protected, and deeply loved. As we walked, I wept. He so clearly had the floor, and I couldn’t remember any of my prayer requests. But it didn’t matter because I found out then what He was excited to talk about—he just wanted to tell me how much he loved me. As simple as that sounds and as basic that concept is to Christianity, that day, it hit me hard and went deep into my heart.

His love for me was the main emphasis of those pivotal 24 hours. He loved me. Me! And the most important thing to him is my relationship to him, not what I do for him.

That day I went from doing for God to being his daughter—belonging to him. Servant to beloved. That changed everything else, especially how I prayed. It was the beginning of learning to let him be in charge of our prayer times together, learning to let Him speak, and learning to really listen and hear his voice.

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Anne McCracken is an artist, a wife, and a mom of two boys who also loves to write.

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