By Rev. Everette Chapman
Among my favorite books are those by Dr. William L. Stidger, a minister of a previous generation. May I share two of his stories for your reflection? Dr. Stidger writes in Sermon Stores of Faith and Hope:
Bishop Francis J. McConnell once told me a story of one of his vivid experiences on Cape Cod when he was a student preacher. He was walking one stormy night with an old sea captain along the shore. The captain was a patrol for the life guards, and he loved it. It was a wild, noisy, tempestuous night and each had to yell above the noise of the elements in order to be heard.
Suddenly the captain halted dead still in his tracks, cupped his hand to his ear, and said: “I hear a cry of distress out in the surf. Somebody is in trouble.” Bishop McConnell hadn’t heard any cry of distress, but that old man’s ears were tuned to a cry of distress, and he had heard it. He reported it immediately to the life guards and, sure enough, they went out and rescued two fishermen who were clinging to an upturned boat.
I then told the good and great bishop a story to match his—for a fair exchange is no robbery. A little child had been sick for several nights, and her mother had tended her each night, but this one particularly hot summer night she had retired early for a much-needed rest. The windows being open, the “clang” and “bang” of two streetcar lines caused a terrible din, but she slept on undisturbed. A fire engine swept by with its siren blowing full blast, but her deep slumber was uninterrupted. Boys, playing baseball in a next door lot, yelled and shouted, but she slept, unconscious of what was happening around her.
The telephone rang three times before the father answered it. He had been absorbed in the radio baseball news. When it proved to be a wrong number, he let out a yell of indignation, but then remembered his sleeping wife. He tiptoed into her room and smiled to himself when he saw that his roar had not disturbed her sleep, nor had the ringing phone. She was oblivious to all the noise.
He had hardly sat down again when the baby’s voice in the back bedroom cried out feebly: “Mother! I want my mother!” In a flash, that soundly-sleeping mother was up, out of the room, and at her baby’s side. She was not disturbed by the streetcars, fire engines, yelling boys, or ringing phone, but her ear was tuned to the cry of distress from her sick baby.
There are lessons for us in these stories. Selective deafness would be beneficial to us during these days when so much bad news thunders at us from the media. Wouldn’t it be wonderful not to hear all the dire predictions of doom, all the words of hate, and all the strident voices around us during these stressful times?
We do need to shut off some of the doomsayers and angry voices around us and be wisely unhearing amidst all the static of a world seemingly gone mad, but we need to be sensitive to the voices we need to heed. We need to listen when a friend gives us words of encouragement and to hear the quiet cries of hurting people around us. We need to learn the art of redemptive listening; the world needs more listeners.
Finally, we need to hear these words spoken to ancient Israel, surrounded by enemies and facing an uncertain future: “Be still and know that I am God.” While the storms rage about us, let us hear again the quiet, confident voice of Jesus, commanding, “Peace, be still!” God’s got this. Shalom.