Cultivating virtue of listening in prayer

Cause of Our Joy l Katie Faley

I was recently in a situation where nobody listened to me. I explained a plan I was making. But when it came time to actually execute that plan, nobody was on the same page at all. I know that they heard me when I first explained the plan. But nobody listened. Miscommunication got in the way and left us all frustrated.

I know I often do more hearing than I do listening. But, when I’m on the receiving end of not being listened to, it’s frustrating and causes unnecessary problems. It feels like my words, time, and self aren’t valued or appreciated. It’s not a pleasant feeling.

It’s no secret that hearing and listening are two different things. I know I’m not alone in experiencing a time when I wasn’t listened to.

We often don’t realize that we listen with more than just our ears. We listen with our eyes. If someone is telling us a story about something that really interests them, we hear it in the tone of their voice; we see it in the brightness of their face; we feel it by the amount of energy they’re putting into the story.

This got me to thinking how important the virtue of listening is. I wondered how it is we listen to God. Or, more importantly, what is the difference between hearing and listening to God?

I find myself often asking God for signs, for some sort of answer given out loud. I don’t want to need signs, but I also don’t want to take the time to wait around in the silence or pay attention to the other ways God might be speaking.

Like Veruca Salt, a character in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” I want to know the answer right now. I want to hear, but I don’t want to listen. I wait around to hear God and give up when it’s not loud enough for me.


When we spend time in prayer, we likely aren’t hearing the voice of God like we hear voices here on earth.

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah is told that God will be present on the mountain, so Elijah climbs the mountain in order to hear God.

God speaks in the silence. His voice isn’t the one booming the loudest above all the other voices. We have to go searching for it. We have to actively listen rather than just hear.

“There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord — but the Lord was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake — but the Lord was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire — but the Lord was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound.”

It was in the light silent sound that God revealed Himself to Elijah. God speaks in the silence. His voice isn’t the one booming the loudest above all the other voices. We have to go searching for it. We have to actively listen rather than just hear.

When the shepherds visit baby Jesus, they tell Mary that an angel told them that her baby is the savior and the long-awaited Messiah. Of course she knew that already, but that must have been a big deal in her life! She just gave birth to the Messiah, and what does she do? She “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”

Sometimes, the things that are most important are kept silent, hidden away in someone’s heart. Listening — to God and to others — means listening to the silence. Sometimes, God reveals more of Himself to us when we simply ask, “What’s in the quiet of Your heart?” And then we stay in the silence. We may not come away with the thoughts and answers that we are accustomed to when we ask other people that kind of a question. But God is still speaking to us. He doesn’t leave us alone to interpret His Word. He shows us through His creation. He plants His Word in our mind, conscience, and soul. He reveals Himself to us through His love. He is speaking. Am I listening?

KATIE FALEY is a member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria and a writing coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She has a master’s degree in theology and theological studies from the University of Notre Dame. Write to her at

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