Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 4, 2013

Listen for the word of God

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The expiration date read, “Oct 01 2013.” The date that morning was Sept. 30. That was good timing, I thought as I grabbed the breakfast shake before running off late, ironically enough, to a cardio dance class. How many times do I have to toss whatever I’m considering eating because it is two weeks past the expiration date? Too many to count. Often, I have bad timing.

However, timing has been in my favor lately.

“Any chance you can come on the Women’s Retreat with me? Would love to have you?” read the text from a friend. I’d thought about it briefly when I read the blurb in the church bulletin but then never gave it more serious consideration, letting life get in the way as the registration deadline came and went. But sometimes those kinds of deadlines are flexible and I was fortunate that this was one of those times.

I had been stressed out and anxious lately, so a weekend in the woods for a spiritual retreat with a group of women sounded like a nice, quick escape that might, as my husband suggested, allow me a chance to push the reset button.

It was time. It was, in fact, past time.

I found my reset button pushed quickly by the programs, the discussions, the creative and artistic exercises, the hike up Lookout Mountain, and the prayers. I was able to pray again from my heart, not my head and my gut. I found my prayer voice after feeling it silenced for far too long. I felt heard — and I felt I could hear.

“I will feed you with the finest wheat. I will satisfy you with honey from the rock.” The theme verse was Psalm 81:16. At first thinking about the finest wheat and honey from a rock neither resonated with me nor made sense to me. But it was explained that bees often built their hives on rocks, so the rich, sweet honey appeared to pour from the rock. The study asked what other verses stood out to us. For me it was verses 7 and 10b: “In distress you called, and I rescued you ... open your mouth wide and I will fill it.”

That sounded like a promise to me — that God wants us to draw near to him no matter what, that he wants us to keep hope that we will be heard and we will be helped. Despite our erratic faith, our disbelief, our fear, our selfishness, our paralyzing pain, our anger — if we will call out, he will hear us and fill our mouths with wisdom and wheat and honey because “the honeycomb is sweet to the taste. In the same way, wisdom is sweet to your soul. If you find it, you will have a bright future, and your hopes will not be cut short.” (Prov. 24:13b-14) Eventually, and at the right time, I experienced a small taste of God’s promise of fine wheat and sweet honey after months of feeling starved. 

Trust me, I thought I heard him saying. Trust me in your pain, your anger, your frustration, your fear and your anxiety. Trust me for I am, still, God.

From the first moments on the mountain, we breathed in air that was fresh and full of acceptance. Not only could I feel my trust of God returning but I sensed an easy bond building with the other women. It was life-affirming how willingly we shared our flaws, vulnerability, and pain. When those burdens are shared, they feel less heavy, debilitating and lonely. When there’s an exchange of weakness and an interchange of ache, we are peeling back the iron curtain on our hearts and throwing open the clouded window to our souls while inviting others to do the same. We are saying we will reveal our inner self and accept the inner self of another.

When the pretense is put aside, when we recognize that everyone suffers hurts and battles demons, then we are walking along side each other and encouraging each other. It is the same as it was during our hike up Lookout Trail where we crossed over Old Trestle Road and hooked up with East Ridge Trail. In our journey through life, when someone needs a hand we offer it or when they need a rest, we stop. And together we will make it to the peak, because we would never let anyone climb that difficult path alone. Together we will reach the summit, soak in the beautiful view and enjoy the triumph over a challenging trail.

One of the leaders shared during the retreat a poem from Rabbi Naomi Levy: “When I feel tainted, God, remind me that I am holy. When I feel weak, remind me that I am strong. When I am shattered, assure me that I can heal. When I am weary, renew my spirit. When I am lost, show me that you are near.”

I don’t think it was the higher elevation that made me feel closer to God, made him feel near. I think it was my willingness to listen carefully with a more open and softened heart and a discerning mind.

One of the teachings that stayed with me most was the simple statement that, when the Bible is read Sunday morning to the congregation, we are invited to listen for the word of God rather than to the word of God. The difference in those two words to me was similar to the difference between speaking with someone rather than speaking to them.

When you are listening for the word of God rather than to it, you are truly listening and expecting it to breathe with new life, and with fresh purpose, words that may not speak to you as effectively another time. When you are listening for the word of God you are anticipating that this time, it is the right time. This time it is good timing.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at