"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever."
The instructor told the dog to "Stay," then she opened the classroom door. As long as the dog remained sitting, the door stood open. As soon as the dog moved to stand, the door swung closed.
For a while the dog yo-yo'd up and down while the door flapped open and shut. When the dog finally surrendered and sat motionless, the instructor opened the door, said a quiet "Go," and allowed the dog to move.
This exercise is important to teach patient waiting, the instructor explained. Dogs that learn to "Stay" won't lunge forward and bolt through every open door temptation. They are protected from the dangers of speeding traffic and busy streets that threaten outside their shelters. Dogs that learn to "Stay" have to trust they will be allowed to move when it is safe for them to do so.
Lately I've been struggling to hear God's "Stay" or "Go" in my own life. I've debated leaving behind some projects and commitments that I suspect are no longer helping me grow. I see the doors swing open, but I cannot hear the "Go" command nor see what lies on the other side.
God's directions are usually not as clear as a firm "Stay here" or "Go now." God often speaks to us through quiet signs and signals. We have to stop, watch, and listen for the subtle clues and comments that may arrive from unexpected sources.
On the day I planned to quit one job and move on to something new and different, I received a surprise email from a person whose faith I admire and trust.
"I'm proud of the work you're doing," she told me. "I brag about you to all my friends."
Suddenly my work seemed noticed and valuable. Suddenly someone understood and appreciated my efforts.
I think that means I need to stay where I am and be patient a while longer, I decided. I need to keep working and finish all the lessons I need before I'm released to take what I've learned outside.
Someday I will hear the command to move forward. It may come through another unexpected email, a comment from a friend, or just a feeling of certainty that I can't stay where I am any longer. Meanwhile, I keep listening and learning, so that when the time is right, I will be ready to launch forward through a waiting open door.
How has God told you when it's time to move forward? How does God encourage you when it's time to stay and wait?
The wide, empty room amplified the rattle of leashes and the snap of plastic clickers. Our first lesson is to make eye contact; call the puppy's name, and when she looks at your face, click the clicker and feed her a treat.
The puppies glanced around, confused. Many names, clicks, and voices pulled their attention in every direction. When my puppy happened to look my way, I added my click and "good girl" to the chaos.
I often feel overwhelmed by the clamor of competing voices, all demanding my time and attention. I am frequently distracted by my worries and plans, pulled in opposing directions by the opinions and expectations of others. I often find it difficult to focus my attention and concentrate on following God's plan for my life.
When God's voice gets lost in the background noise, there are a few steps we can take to refocus our gaze and keep us looking in his direction.
Turn down the noise level.
Our days are busy, and crowded schedules make it difficult to be silent, pray, and listen for God's quiet whisper.
God tells us to be still and know that he is God.
I'm planning 15 minutes every morning to just sit, breathe, and be grateful as I approach a new day.
Reduce the input.
We are constantly bombarded by advertising and media telling us we need to be different to be good enough.
God tells us we are valued because we are created in his image.
I'm cancelling old magazine subscriptions and limiting my TV and Facebook time to reduce the volume of negative messages I receive.
Adjust the environment.
We are surrounded by people who try to tear us down, undermine our successes, and influence us in the wrong directions.
God tells us to choose our friends carefully.
I'm being careful to spend my time with people who build me up, bring positive energy to my life, and work with me to build supportive and nurturing relationships.
The rewards are not always easy to identify. I don't often get a "good girl" and a pat on the head. But I have faith that if I keep trying, keep looking and listening, it will become easier to hear and obey the one who holds the blessings in his hands.
How do you get quiet and listen for God's voice? How do you know you are looking in the right direction?
I took a journalism class in high school. I snapped pictures for the school newspaper with an old 35 mm camera and developed real photographs in the school dark room. I wrote an article about Easter traditions for the school newspaper (we could talk about Easter at school back then), and my essay about education careers was published in our small-town newspaper.
I learned to ask the 5 W + 1 H questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?
I never pursued a career in journalism, but I have found myself asking those same questions repeatedly throughout my life.
Who is taking this journey with me? What does God have planned for us? Where are we going? When will we get there? Why is this experience important? How do we know we're going the right way?
Usually, I have found the answers to my questions only lead to more questions.
Who is really on my side? What does it all mean? Where do we go from here? When will we be happy? Why do we make the same mistakes? How can we help each other?
And as I've grown older, the questions become deeper, murkier, and more serious.
Who will remember me when I'm gone? What lies ahead for our country? Where will we be in 20 years? When will I ever feel security? Why does God allow people to suffer? How long can we go on like this?
Anytime I think I've found the answers, I realize I still have much to learn.
Like a journalist, I try to compose a coherent storyline to my life. I try to piece together the truth from small bits of information, clues left behind, quotes from eyewitnesses, and unreliable tips from anonymous sources. Each lead I receive only leads me to the next phase of the investigation. My struggling and digging never seem to uncover the answers to the questions of our lives.
It seems the more I interrogate and demand to know, the more God replies, "No comment."
Finally, I have to admit my role here is limited. I can never understand all the answers. I will never solve all the mysteries. The best I can do is collect my observations, organize my notes, and submit a first draft for consideration.
"Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith" (Hebrews 12:2).
God is crafting the final edition. He sets the deadlines and decides what to cut and what to print. He determines which features make the final page. And though I continue to ask and seek, I have to accept that only God controls the final copy.
The final answer is to accept God's authority and let him revise my work.
What questions do you ask about your life? Where do you go to seek the answers?