When a call comes up on my cell phone, I have two choices. I can tap “answer” and speak to the caller, or I can choose “ignore” and let it go to voicemail. If I am in a meeting or otherwise engaged, I sometimes have to hit “ignore,” then I check later to see if there’s a message.
I was reminded of this as we embark on a series of call stories—two of them this week. The one about the boy Samuel is intriguing, to say the least.
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’* and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’ [1st Samuel 3:1-10]
Samuel was young, living away from home and the familiar, a student/protégé. Lonely? Anxious? Bewildered? Certainly, he wasn’t used to listening for the voice of God. It doesn’t seem as though our writer would have us believe that Samuel was intentionally ignoring the call, only that his lack of experience kept him from recognizing it when it came to him. It took Eli’s wisdom—and time—to convince them both that something was at work.
And it makes me wonder: when have I missed something important? Not a cell phone call, but something deeper. When have I chosen to ignore instead of answering? When should I have done something but have been inactive? When should I have spoken up but have been silent?
The voice is all around us. In a news story about hungry children in our state, or about people who have inadequate health care. In a new piece of information about domestic violence. In a phone call from a friend or acquaintance or relative that signals a need. In a conversation about a class or group of people who are treated unfairly.
We can’t answer every need with an all-out response; there isn’t enough time or energy. But some needs will call out to us more than others because each one of us has different “receptors.”
Eli’s wisdom was to keep listening with an open heart and mind, and see what happens.
© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2015